HOW BOUT THIS JAZZ (GAME 48)
VS LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (1/18/2023)
Lauri Markkanen returned after a 2-game absence and so did Utah’s .500 record, which now stands at 24-24. Utah took down the Clippers in Salt Lake with a never in doubt 126-103 win. Utah didn’t lose a single quarter, which statistically gives you a 100 percent chance of winning. The Jazz as of now have a narrow edge on the seventh seed in the West. With the trade deadline looming, it will be incredibly interesting to see the route that Danny Ainge and company decide on. The Jazz are only 3.5 games out of a top four seed if they wanted to push their luck, which I recommend they don’t. They are also only 2.5 games ahead of slipping down to the 13th seed in the West. The Jazz are one loss away from being potentially surpassed by the Clippers, the Thunder and the Wolves proving how narrow things are. Playoffs or Lottery that is the question to be answered, and one that will likely be solved in the next couple weeks. I have no doubt in my mind that this current iteration of the Utah Jazz could make the play-in game bare minimum, the West is a mess, and Utah could give the fans another playoff experience. Look at the top four seeds as of now in Denver, Memphis, Sacramento and New Orleans, this is clearly an odd year in which the Jazz could slip into the playoffs and it would only one of the weirdest postseason storylines. That being said the Jazz are largely expected to be sellers and recommit to the goal of rebuilding the team through youth and draft capital as they proved in the offseason. After all playoffs isn’t the goal, the Jazz have made plenty of playoff showdowns. The goal is a chip in the Beehive state and Danny has proved to be patient to hit the overall goal.
With all the excitement around the trade deadline and Jazz players in just about every rumor imaginable, it can be easy to forget that real basketball is being played. With the home win over the Clips Utah is now victorious in 4 of their last 5 contests. The Clippers as per usual played without a good majority of their stars. No Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, John Wall or Luke Kennard. Feel awful for Clipper fans and NBA fans for having to watch this team on National TV as much as they do. The Jazz injury report has cleaned itself up quite a bit as they were only missing Kelly Olynyk. This seems like it should have been an automatic Jazz victory, and it was, which after watching High profile team after High profile team fail to put away teams underneath them, it was refreshing for Jazz fans. After watching six straight games decided by less than 10 points, and two straight decide by 1 point, it was great to see the Jazz win handily. Markkanen’s 34 points led all scorers. Mike Conley was extra effective against the team who may be welcoming him to LA in the following weeks with a 17 point, 9 assist gem. Conley was 6/8 from deep and shot 75 percent on the night in 28 minutes. Beasley, Kessler, Clarkson and Sexton all scored in double figures. 7 Jazz players nailed a triple on along the way. The Clippers were led by Norman Powell’s hot hand with 30 points on 7 made threes. Ivica Zubac poured in 15. Not on the stat sheet is the Utah Jazz physicality meter. The Jazz were relentless in multiple ways. See Lauri Markkanen’s poster on Zubac, or Malik Beasley’s offensive rebound put back on Zubac. Or, if you want to see the prime example, check out Agbaji’s block that led to Clarkson’s save that led to Vanderbilt pushing the pace up the floor that ended with a Collin Sexton filthy right-hand slam. Yes, that was a sequence to type, but it was a sequence to behold.
I know this section has featured Lauri Markkanen multiple times in this category, but there’s no way I am giving someone else consideration in them midst of “The Finnisher’s” all star campaign. Markkanen is simply on a tear where he is not only looking like an All-Star but a Superstar. What he has done in Utah, and what Utah has done for him have changed the course of his career. He has gone from Great Value Kristaps Porzingis, or high-end Nikola Mirotic to Utah’s very own Dirk Nowitzki. You bet I’m getting ahead of myself, but when the trade with Cleveland went down, Collin Sexton was considered the center piece. Markkanen was a filler, an intriguing fun filler, but a filler nonetheless. People had long given up on Markkanen being anything more than a solid role player. How a change of scenery and proper development can make a difference. According to Twitter user, Calvy J, Markkanen has scored 1,068 points in his 43 appearances. This would trump the most points he’s ever had in an entirety of a year in his previous 5 seasons. His rookie season was the previous best at 1,033 points in 68 games. After the drubbing of the Clippers that saw Lauri finish with 34 points, that season point total is only create more distance with his previous best. All-Star and Most Improved Player? It seems to be. Markkanen would also shoot 55 percent from the field and 75 from deep on 8 attempts. Let’s add the12 rebounds for another fun fashioned double double, with 2 blocks and 0 turnovers to boot.
THREE KEY NUMBERS:
19 of 32 is how the Utah Jazz three-point shooting ended when the final buzzer sounded. That is a 59.4 percent clip or even better, that is a season high for the Jazz in three-point shooting percentage. It was one shy of tying the most threes made in a single game this year, but the best percentage by about 7 percent. The previous best was 51.6 in the 134-133 win over Phoenix. Last night was the second time the Jazz have shot above 50 percent from deep on the season.
Salt Lake Tribune writer, Andy Larsen, shared a fun financial tidbit about Utah. Between both Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler, the Jazz will pay 20 million for the next 2.5 seasons. If the rumor about the Jazz considering Markkanen and Kessler as “untouchable” assets is true, then that is a phenomenal price range for two cornerstones of your franchise moving forward. Mix this with draft picks and financial flexibility and it is easy to see this “rebuild” may not end up being that long.
Lauri Markkanen has yet to have a game this season where he has scored in single digits. He has scored more than 30 points 11 times this year, which is a season high. But the most impressive aspect of the high scoring totals Lauri is putting forth are the consistency in which he does so. The Jazz have a top 5 offense in the NBA, this is not Markkanen putting up a bunch of shots on an awful team (see Devin Booker’s early years in Phoenix). This scoring is a prime example for growth, maturity and fitting the role the Jazz have laid out. Ben Anderson pointed out that Markkanen has now went 14 straight games with at least 20 points. There have been no off nights for the hopeful All-Star.
OPPOSING FAN COMMENT OF THE NIGHT:
“Are we sure we aren’t tanking?” – Otherwise-Tale9671