HOW ‘BOUT THIS JAZZ? (GAME 50)
VS CHARLOTTE HORNETS (1/23/23)
The Utah Jazz have welcomed back Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Bojan Bogdanovic and most recently Royce O’Neale. Never has the saying “Once a Jazzman, always a Jazzman” rang so true as these players have been welcomed back with massive applause. Lost in all this was the return of former face of the franchise Gordon Hayward, who still seems to be, next to Enes Kanter and Derek Fisher an exception to that saying. It’s been six years since Hayward scorned Utah in favor of “unfinished business” with former Collegiate coach and friend Brad Stevens. That business has since remained unfinished and Hayward has been dealt a couple of tough blows to where you almost feel bad for the guy. The causal NBA fan may have forgotten that Gordy has been silently wasting away in Buzz City since 2020. In fact, Jazz fans almost forgot to shower him with light boos, that trailed into mumbles and murmurs during the starting lineup announcements as if they themselves had forgotten. Hayward has played 23 of Charlotte’s 48 games this year where he is averaging his lowest point total per game since his sophomore season. The former Jazz All-Star brought in his cellar dwelling Hornets in on a rare bright spot in the form of a two-game winning streak on the road in Houston and Atlanta. I can dress up the Hornets as much as I want, with or without LaMelo Ball, who they were without in Salt Lake. But all the dressing and positivity in the world cannot hide the fact that Charlotte is not a good NBA team. The Hornets are on a one-way crash course with a high-end lottery selection and despite Utah looking lackluster, the Hornets were not going to take advantage of any opportunity Utah may have presented.
Will Hardy mentioned after the 120-102 victory that he felt “Charlotte is better than their record.” And that the Jazz gave them the “appropriate” amount of respect. Coach Hardy was certainly being nice or giving them to much credit for their nice jersey’s. Either way Utah’s sad first quarter was quickly put in the rearview as the Jazz had a 37-21 edge in the 2nd. That quarter of play allowed Utah to somewhat cruise throughout the rest of the night as the Hornets did not have the fire power to overcome that kind of deficit. For example, the Hornets were the worst three-point shooting team headed into last night shooting under 33 percent on the year, and under 28 percent in their last three games according to teamrankings.com. In Utah the Hornets shot 16 threes and made two. Making tow three pointers in todays NBA is basically unheard of and downright laughable. If you need more proof they missed three consecutive layups, so there you go. Terry Rozier was responsible for them both as he had 23 points on 23 shots. Dennis Smith Jr had 15 on 11 shots and no other Hornet attempted more than 10 field goals. Hayward and Mark Williams both had 11 points apiece.
For two teams who were not supposed too be all to different from one another during preseason chatter, the home town heroes saw very different results. Utah saw even offensive distribution as they posted 25 team assists led by Talen Horton-Tucker’s six. 5 players scored in double digits led by Lauri Markkanen’s 16th straight 20 plus performance at 25. He would also snag 11 boards to boot. Jordan Clarkson had 18 and Mike Conley showed his value with 4 triples on 14 points. Collin Sexton had a quiet 11 points and Walker Kessler was a rebound shy of another double double as he finished with 13. The Kessler Vs Plumlee matchup was highly touted as David Locke shared that both big men were top 5 in offensive rebounds in the month of January. After a rough first half for Utah’s rookie, Kessler would tie Plumlee with 4 offensive boards by the end of the game and grab an additional defensive rebound to win the battle of the boards as the Jazz held the advantage 46-42 in rebounding on the night.
Walker Kessler had a great 2nd half, Ochai Agbaji was solid in his 20 minutes and Talen Horton-Tucker played an all-around good game especially with his distribution, but this is another Lauri Markkanen no brainer. Markkanen led the Jazz in made Field goals, tied with Clarkson on two less shots. Lauri led the game in FG percentage for players who attempted a three despite taking more three’s than anyone else at 57.1 percent and 4 of 8 from downtown. The soon to be All-Star also led the team in Free throws made and attempted, plus minus and of course points. His 11 rebounds were also a team high. An all-around game for an all-around guy who was the best player on the floor for all four quarters. As some fans pointed out afterwards, a performance like this felt average during the contest despite being anything but. This goes to show you how truly spectacular he has been for Utah and how accustomed fans have become to seeing Markkanen hoop at a high level on a consistent basis. Ben Anderson pointed out a couple days ago that since all-star voting opened up, Markkanen is averaging 30.6 PPG, 96.6 RPG and shooting 50 percent from the field. He is 42 percent from deep in that time and 92 percent from the charity stripe. If it looks like a duck…
THREE KEY NUMBERS:
The Jazz win total odds were set in the preseason at 24.5. If you took the over, congratulations you got it done 50 games into the season. As a Jazz fan my first thought is to be offended by such a paltry overall win total. Who do they thin we are? The Charlotte Hornets? In all seriousness, Fans, beat writers, talking heads all saw that as a tricky number, many even taking the under. We had no clue how competent Coach Hardy would be in getting a team with zero chemistry together. We certainly didn’t envision the hot start with a ridiculously difficult schedule, and we did not expect certain players to produce at such a high level (see Markkanen, Kessler, Agbaji) We can say we knew this team was too good to truly tank, and that is accurate, but no one anticipated Utah to beat the over only 50 games in.
Mike Conley’s time in a Jazz uniform may be drawing to a close, but Conley has always been a team first guy. Willing to teach, mentor lift and settle into a backseat role has never fazed Mountain Mike. He can help a young team grow and can help a veteran team win. His market is higher than it has been in the past year and a half and teams with guard depth issues will be interested in his talents. The biggest sign of a veteran who plays smart and composed is his recent turnover numbers. Per legion Hoops, Mike has one turnover in his past 147 minutes of gametime. The Jazz are top five in the NBA when it comes to coughing up the rock, but Mike certainly is not the one to blame.
The Jazz social media team put out a fun tidbit after the 120-102 win over Charlotte last night. According to them the beehive state is not a friend of Hornets. 16 straight victories over the Hornets have taken place on Utah’s home floor. The Hornets did beat Utah in Carolina as soon as last season, but have not won in Salt Lake since March 1st, 2006 when “Bobcats” was plastered over their orange and blue jerseys. The Cats won that game 104-89 behind Gerald Wallace and Brevin Knight having 19 apiece. Matt Harpring led all scores with 22 points and D-Will dropped 15 in the loss.
OPPOSING FAN COMMENT OF THE NIGHT:
Most likely in reference to the Hornets hitting two threes all night:
“We couldn’t shoot a snowflake in a blizzard.” -Opposite_procedure60
Fan quotes were fittingly seldom. Imagine having to watch the Hornets, let alone comment during the game itself.