Lauri Markkanen scored 34 points on 6-for-8 shooting from the three-point line, while Walker Kessler continues to raise eyebrows around the NBA with his third straight double-double as the Utah Jazz curb-stomped the Los Angeles Clippers, 126- 103
The Jazz began the game on a 9-0 run and never relinquished the lead against an undermanned Clippers squad that was on their second game of a back-to-back. Utah took advantage of having the fresher legs with some sharp shooting from long range. Led by Markkanen, the Jazz finished the game shooting 59.4% from three-point land and 51.7% from the field.
Let’s break down the winners and losers in Utah’s fourth win in its last five tries.
Winner: Lauri Markkanen
‘The Finnisher’ came back from a two-game hiatus to lead the Jazz in points and rebounds while bolstering his case for his first All-Star appearance. Currently, Markkanen is 11th in the fan vote, which comprises 50% of the tally to earn an All-Star nod, while the other half comes from the players and media.
The way it’s trending, jazz fans can expect no. 23 to be suiting up in Salt Lake City on February 19 in Utah’s first All-Star game since 1996.
Loser: Coach Will Hardy
If we’re being honest, Kessler’s recent emergence has more to do with Kelly Olynyk’s injury freeing up minutes for Utah’s rookie center than it does Hardy’s conscious decision to bump his playing time. So, Rudy Gay has gone scoreless in back-to-back games and has only two points in his last 33 minutes on the court.
However, nobody is surprised with those results other than Hardy, who continues to keep Gay in the rotation despite better options on the bench.
Winner: New Starting Lineup
Inserting Malik Beasley and Kessler into the starting lineup is paying big dividends. The Jazz are 4-1 since the reshuffle that started against the Cleveland Cavaliers on January 10.
Kessler appears to be a permanent fixture to begin the game, but what will Hardy do when Olynyk comes back? Hardy could stick with Beasley, or Olynyk could slide into the 4 spot, and Markkanen back to the 3. Either way, it’s a formidable group with Kessler anchoring the defense and Markkanen spearheading the offense.
Winner: Anti-Tank Jazz Fans
There’s no better time to get hot than three weeks before the trade deadline for the Jazz fans who are all in for 2022-23. Utah is currently tied as the sixth seed in the Western Conference standings, where some preseason favorites are trending in the wrong direction.
With the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers being curtailed by the injury bug, the Jazz could sneak into the playoffs without the benefit of the play-in tournament.
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