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Two key players will be back on the court as the Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors bring in 2022 on Saturday with a New Year’s Day showdown in Salt Lake City.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, the players aren’t Klay Thompson or Draymond Green.

But that scenario is on the horizon for a Golden State team that’s been without Thompson for 2-1/2 years. With Thompson’s return imminent – and Green’s upcoming exit from the NBA’s health and safety protocols – that was all the talk at a recent practice as the Warriors found themselves with an unexpected day off due to Thursday’s game at Denver being postponed because of COVID-19.

Thompson didn’t give an exact date on his return, but he told media that he plans on it being at a home game in the near future. He expects to be on a minutes restriction and is thankful the Warriors have a deep team so he won’t have a huge burden on his shoulders at first.

“I feel like it’s going to take a few games,” he said, “maybe a few weeks to get to feeling like an All-Star again.”

Golden State coach Steve Kerr said Thompson will be in the starting lineup whenever he does return. The Warriors next few home games are Jan. 3 (Miami), Jan. 9 (Cleveland) and Jan. 18 (Detroit).

The Jazz will have veterans Mike Conley Jr. and Joe Ingles back in the lineup Saturday after they sat out of Friday’s 120-108 win over Minnesota. Donovan Mitchell, who had missed the two previous games with a back injury, returned to score a season-best 39 points with six 3-pointers.

Mitchell looks forward to the matchup of NBA heavyweights.

“They are a hell of a team led by a hell of a player, Hall of Famer (Steph Curry),” Mitchell said. “We’ve got to come out ready and prepared. They’ve had some time off to lock in on us. We’ve got to come out there, fight and compete. It’s going to be a good one. Let’s go.”

Utah is on a six-game winning streak. Mitchell helped make that happen by igniting the Jazz with 12 points during a 22-0 fourth-quarter run against the Timberwolves on Friday.

“We did it collectively as a group and continued to fight, compete,” he said. “We did it on many levels – defensively, offensively.”

The Warriors had won three straight before they had to play Denver on Tuesday despite both teams missing key contributors because of COVID-19. A Thursday rematch was postponed because the NBA deemed the Nuggets had too many players in the health and safety protocols. That gave Golden State four days off before playing Utah.

The league’s decision didn’t sit well with Green, who missed Tuesday’s 89-86 loss to Denver and won’t play Saturday.

“So when the game is rescheduled (which will probably take a day away from our “break”), we will play them at full strength,” Green tweeted. “… But they got to sneak a win when we weren’t at full strength, only two days ago??? Let’s make it make some sense here.”

-Field Level Media