Rookies Help Jazz Outlast Portland In Preseason Home Opener

Oct 14, 2023, 10:46 PM | Updated: Oct 16, 2023, 2:07 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz survived a fourth quarter comeback from the Portland Trail Blazers, winning their preseason home opener 138-133.

Lauri Markkanen scored 26 points and grabbed nine rebounds in just 25 minutes, while John Collins added 15 points.

All 14 Jazz players who saw the floor scored.

Rookies Help Jazz Outlast Blazers

Keyonte George and Taylor Hendricks both played the entire fourth quarter, combining for 18 of the Jazz’s 27 points while shooting 3-7 from the floor, and 10-10 from the free-throw line.

The rookies made obvious mistakes, turning the ball over five times in the final period and hunting shots early in the clock.

However, both players also made winning plays after Portland trimmed the Jazz lead to just one in the final 90 seconds of the game.

After Portland missed what would be a go-ahead basket, Hendricks grabbed the rebound on one end, and extended the Jazz’s lead to four with a late clock three.

George then iced the game with a pair of free throws with 31 seconds left to play.

“I’m definitely getting real comfortable,” George said of playing his third game with the Jazz. “I’m starting to figure out where my shots are about to come from and I think I’m making the right reads.”

Through three preseason games, it seems clear that George will have a spot in the Jazz main rotation to open the regular season, while Hendricks isn’t ready for consistent minutes.

Though Hendricks could hang around with the main roster looking for late-game minutes in blowout situations, he’d likely be better served spending time in the G League with the Salt Lake City Stars where he can learn the nuances of the NBA game without having to wait through 45 minutes of game-time in hopes of seeing the floor.

“The transition to the NBA is not easy,” Coach Will Hardy said. “I think we all at times just assume that because they are really good players or they were picked where they were picked that they’ll just sort of hit the ground running and everything’s gonna be great, and it just not that simple.”

Ochai Agbaji, another lottery pick on the Jazz’s roster spent most of the first half of last season in the G League, and came back to the team with a much-improved understanding of how to use his shooting and athleticism in the NBA.

Hendricks, whose best skills coincidentally are also his shooting and athleticism could benefit from a similar opportunity.

John Collins Flashing Passing Ability

Without a willing passer like Kelly Olynyk in the starting lineup, Markkanen, Collins, and Walker Kessler are going to have to improve their assist numbers in order for the Jazz offense to function as designed.

Despite coming off the bench and playing only 15 minutes, Olynyk recorded four assists, matching the total from the Jazz starting frontcourt in a combined 68 minutes on the floor.

With a need for passing in the frontcourt, the Jazz have drawn up plays for Collins to throw alley-oop passes to his teammates early in the preseason, drawing the praise of his new coach.

“He’s shown a real knack for that pass, it’s not an easy pass to throw,” Hardy said. “I don’t know if it’s because John is so good at catching lobs he knows how you’re supposed to throw it.”

It’s a pass Collins said he’s thrown before but is happy to show off in Utah.

“You’re going to see a lot more layers to my game that you wouldn’t necessarily have expected,” Collins said, “and I’m locked in on continuing to prove that I can contribute in any way I can.”

Utah Jazz’s Next Broadcast

The Jazz will face the New Zealand Breakers on Monday at 7 pm MST at the Delta Center. The game will be televised on KJZZ, streamed on Jazz+, and can be heard on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone.

Download the new & improved KSL Sports app from Utah’s sports leader. You can stream live radio, video and stay up to date on all of your favorite teams.

Ben Anderson is the Utah Jazz insider for KSL Sports and the co-host of Jake and Ben from 10-12p with Jake Scott on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter at @BensHoops or on Instagram @BensHoops.

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Rookies Help Jazz Outlast Portland In Preseason Home Opener