Two nights ago, the Utah Jazz (16-14) played their best basketball of the season against the New Orleans Pelicans (18-9). With a healthy Lauri Markkanen, Mike Conley, and Jordan Clarkson, Utah offered an impressive performance on both ends of the court. Tonight, in snowy Salt Lake City, they have an opportunity to build off that win, facing the New Orleans Pelicans once again.
For the Jazz, having their three best players return to the starting lineup made quite the difference. Markannan, after missing three games due to illness, hardly missed a beat in his return. His presence on the court obviously benefits Utah from a scoring and defensive versatility standpoint. But almost more importantly, Markkanen makes the lives of his teammates significantly easier by spacing the floor and spreading opposing defenses thin. Jarred Vanderbilt, for instance, struggled to find open cutting, slashing, and rebounding lanes in Markkanen’s absence, since Utah lacked significant gravity on the court. When healthy, the Jazz are dangerous.
When: 7:00 PM MT
Where: Vivint Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah
Radio: 97.5/1280 The Zone
New Orleans Pelicans
OUT- Jose Alvarado (right rib contusion)
OUT- Brandon Ingram (toe)
OUT- Simone Fontecchio (ankle)
OUT- Collin Sexton (hamstring)
What to watch for
Defending Zion Williamson
Due to foul trouble, Zion Williamson spent much of the last game riding the pine. However, in only 26 minutes, Williamson posted 26 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists on 10-16 shooting. In the first half, Utah had no answer for slowing him down.
Now of course, no team in the NBA holds the keys to slowing down a near 300 lb athletic monster. Williamson is really, really good at basketball. But if Utah can once again attack him on defense and force him into some foul trouble, they’ll limit some of his magic on the offensive end. Williamson has shown some significant improvement on the defensive end this season, but his reputation of not putting forth the best effort on that side of the ball still stands. Can the Jazz make the most of that again?
Utah’s supporting cast
On Tuesday, Utah’s supporting cast played incredible. Nickiel Alexander-Walker had 19 points and 6 assists, Malik Beasley scored 21 points, Jarred Vandebilt had 18 points and 14 rebounds, and Walker Kessler chipped in a double-double. Everyone who touched the floor made an impact in their own respective way.
This type of depth has continued to stand as Utah’s hallmark this season. It seems as if every night, a new player steps up and offers a game-changing performance. NAW, in particular, has really stood out over the last week with his shooting and playmaking. If this type of production can become more consistent, Utah has found itself another diamond in the rough.
The Jazz enter the night as +1.5 favorites with an over/under set at 231.5.