Healthier Jazz Crush West-Best New Orleans Pelicans
SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz held the New Orleans Pelicans to 4-27 three-point shooting in what coach Will Hardy called the team’s best defensive performance of the season.
The Pelicans owned the top record in the West heading into the evening, but with the loss, snapped their league-best seven-game win streak.
Lauri Markkanen returned for the Jazz after a three-game absence and scored 19 points and 11 rebounds in 31 minutes.
Hardy Praises Jazz Defense Against New Orleans
Jazz coach Will Hardy was quick to point out that the Jazz had their best defensive night of the year against the Pelicans, holding New Orleans to 39 percent shooting from the floor and just 4-27 from the three-point line.
“What stood out to me was how connected we were on the defensive end,” hardy said. “That was our best defensive game of the season as a team identifying the gameplan, helping each other, and rebounding as a team.”
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The Pelicans had just one made three at halftime, and two through the first three quarters as the game quickly spiraled out of control.
“Being a good defensive team takes a ton of effort, it takes multiple efforts on every possession,” Hardy said. “That’s something we’ve been stressing in practice, and the guys are getting better and better.”
Tuesday’s 100-point outing marked only the second time this season the Pelicans had been held to fewer than 104 points, outdone only by a 95-point outing against the Portland Trail Blazers on November 10.
Alexander-Walker Has Earned His Keep
Early in the preseason, Nickeil Alexander-Walker earned praise from Hardy and Mike Conley as one of the younger players standing out in closed-door practice sessions.
However, the fourth-year guard was out of the team’s rotation to open the season and appeared in just 10 of the Jazz’s first 20 games.
At media day, Alexander-Walker discussed how he was working on himself both on and off the floor to improve his performance.
“Today it’s Monday and it’s been a great day,” Alexander-Walker said. “Tuesday can be bad, but there’s Wednesday, and just using that to my advantage of consistency in a mindset.”
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) December 14, 2022
According to Hardy, that mindset is paying off for the guard.
“He’s a perfectionist, and he’s worked really, really hard to get here and he’s very detailed about his work on the court in the way we’re watching film,” Hardy said. “That’s his personality, And that’s his biggest strength and at times, that can be his biggest weakness.”
Alexander-Walker has had an up-and-down start to his NBA career. The guard was drafted in the first round by the Pelicans in 2019, floated in and out of the rotation as a rookie, struggled to shoot the ball in his second season, and was traded twice within two days last February before finally landing with the Jazz.
After Tuesday’s win, the guard said he had to learn to embrace the constant change that comes with playing in the NBA.
“The one thing I’ve got to do is find peace, peace with whatever comes in life,” Alexander-Walker said. “At the end of the day, like it could be better it could be worse, but it is what it is. I’ve got to enjoy what I have.”
As Alexander-Walker is learning to enjoy what he has in the NBA, the Jazz have been enjoying what they have in Alexander-Walker.
Over his last eight games, the 24-year-old is averaging 11.6 points and 3.0 assists while shooting 57 percent from the floor and 51 percent from the three-point line in 22 minutes per game.
Against the Pelicans, Alexander-Walker scored 19 points on 7-10 shooting including 4-6 from three to go with six assists.
Walker Kessler Doesn’t Care About Getting Dunked On
In the second quarter Jazz rookie Walker Kessler found himself on the wrong side of a Zion Williamson poster dunk.
Williamson drove past Kessler and easily threw down a two-handed dunk over the shot-blocking phenom, and it’s not the first time. Kessler has been the recipient of several facials early in his career.
For the 21-year-old, that’s just a part of doing business.
— NBA (@NBA) December 14, 2022
“I think that you have to have a short memory in this league, not just on the offensive end but the defensive end as well,” Kessler said. “And because of that, it doesn’t bother me.”
Kessler got the better of Williamson in their final two meetings at the rim on Tuesday blocking his shot twice before the game ended.
“I’m still gonna jump if a guy dunks on me four times, I’m not just going to let him [dunk],” Kessler said. “That dunk is a lot harder than me just moving out of the way, I don’t really care about — if anything any publicity is good publicity, I guess, so yeah it doesn’t really faze me.”
Kessler finished with 11 points, and a career-high 16 rebounds in 24 minutes.
- Kelly Olyny played only 16 minutes in the win and recorded four fouls defending Williamson and Jonas Valanciunas
- Jarred Vanderbilt had arguably his most productive game in a Jazz uniform scoring 18 points, grabbing 14 rebounds, and handing out six assists in 23 minutes.
- Will Hardy lowered his rotation from 10 guys to nine guys with Sexton out of the rotation, not playing Talen Horton-Tucker until the final five minutes of the game.
Jazz Next Broadcast
The Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans will tip off again in Thursday at 7 pm MT in Salt Lake City. The game will be televised on AT&T SportsNet and can be heard on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. It can also be streamed on DirecTV Stream and FuboTV.
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