The Jazz are scuffling. Over the last two weeks they are 2-5 with an even (0.0) point differential. In short, they’re losing a lot of games in the final minutes.
Back-to-back, buzzer-beating 3P makes by Kevin Huerter and Tyler Herro have sunk the Jazz, while late comebacks in San Antonio and falling short in Golden State have been accentuating the slide.
Two-days off couldn’t have come sooner, especially since tonight’s matchup with the Sacramento Kings is the last day at home before ANOTHER mini 3-game road trip.
Coming into tonight is a lot of buzz surrounding the team, especially Lauri Markkanen, Utah’s likely All-Star representative. He’s been on a tear lately, averaging 27.7 pts, 8.3 reb, 1.1 ast, and 1.2 tov on 70.7% TS since coming back grom his three game absense.
Lauri Markkanen discusses making his All-Star campaign poster. https://t.co/640NzJ9ccH pic.twitter.com/RKkRlGzCfu— Eric Walden (@tribjazz) January 2, 2023
Walker Kessler has also been impressing in additional minutes and a larger role in starting several games with Kelly Olynyk sidelined. Collin Sexton didn’t practice and will be out with more hamstring maintenance.
All these and more storylines percolate the franchise as they host the Kings tonight. Should be a fun game with the Jazz looking for some revenge.
Let’s break down the matchup!
The 19-16 Sacramento Kings have been one of the season’s best feel-good stories as they look to break a historic 16 year playoff drought.
They’ve turned things around in big fashion thanks to surrounding high-level guard and center play in De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis with tremendous 3P shooting. Sacramento ranks 7th in 3P frequency and 16th in 3P efficiency, both marks up considerably from last season.
New additions Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk have been instrumental in this turnaround, the later burying the Jazz at the buzzer in their matchup just days ago.
KEVIN HUERTER!@KevinHuerter | #RoarWithUs pic.twitter.com/WB5Wbci8TN— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) December 31, 2022
While the 3P ball put the nail in the coffin, it was the Jazz defense at the rim that offset all the amazing offense the Jazz posted. Utah allowed Sacramento 38% frequency at the rim on 82% shooting.
Sabonis, the Kings best player by multiple metrics, had a field day against the Jazz, posting his 6th best game (per BBall Ref’s game score) against the Jazz. He’s averaging 18.6 pts, 12.4 reb, and 6.6 ast per game on 69% TS.
For the Jazz to find success in this one, they’ll have to focus on rim defense.
This has been a big weakness for the Jazz over the last several games. Look at the list of recent opponents and their efficiency shooting at the rim (percentile):
- vs MIA - 82.4% (8%tile)
- at SAC - 81.8% (9%tile)
- at GSW - 60.0% (73%tile)
- at SAS - 76.9% (18%tile)
- vs WAS - 79.2% (14%tile)
- at DET - 62.5% (65%tile)
- at CLE - 77.3% (18%tile)
- at MIL - 70.8% (37%tile)
In short, it’s been a layup line. Against Sacramento the other night, Utah had it’s best success with a 3-big lineup of Lauri Markkanen, Kelly Olynyk, and Walker Kessler. In 11 minutes, that group only allowed 6 of 20 shots at the rim and still performed at an elite offensive level.
The secondary rim defense that group brings proved huge against the Kings. We should look for that group to get more run with minutes coming at the expense of Rudy Gay and Jarred Vanderbilt.
For the season, rim defense turns around in a big way when Kessler steps on the floor. The Jazz with Walker OFF allow 33% frequency and 69% efficiency at the rim. With Walker ON the floor, the Jazz allow 28% frequency and 64% efficiency.
As great as it is to have 5-out lineups and Kelly Olynyk’s passing, if the Jazz want to win, they need to play Walker Kessler more. Traditional, drop-big defense is the best avenue for a successful defense in the regular season.
Per NBA.com at 10:30 AM MST, the Sacramento have two rotation members listed on their injury report:
- Starting guard Kevin Huerter is questionable with upper back soreness
- Backup guard Malik Monk is questionable with right shoulder soreness
Given the “soreness” label for their injuries, we should anticipate both being available by gametime. In wouldn’t be until late in the process they’d be held out. As we’ve mentioned, both are integral in the Kings achieving offensive success.
The Utah Jazz have just one non-G League players labeled on the report:
- Backup guard Collin Sexton is listed as out due to right hamstring maintenance
- In case you missed the report, Jazz beat writers explained the approach to Collin’s injury.
Collin Sexton did not practice today due to his hamstring. He found that his hammy wasn't as strong as it was pre-injury, so they're going to hold him out for a week.— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) January 2, 2023
When: 7:00 PM MT
Where: Vivint Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah
Radio: 97.5/1280 The Zone