Jazz Go Big, Sweep Pelicans In Two-Game Home Series

Nov 27, 2023, 11:12 PM | Updated: Nov 28, 2023, 9:48 am

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz strung together back-to-back wins for only the second time this season after downing the New Orleans Pelicans 114-112.

Keyonte George scored a career-high 19 points on 6-14 shooting while adding five rebounds, three assists, and two steals.

Zion Williamson returned for New Orleans after missing Saturday’s loss and led the Pelicans with 26 points.

Jazz Go Old School On 70s Night Against Pelicans

It was fitting that on the night the Jazz honored their rosters from the 70s they played perhaps their most old-school lineup by NBA standards, specifically in the frontcourt.

While the have Jazz experimented with smaller lineups, either by choice or due to injuries throughout the season, Will Hardy made sure to have either Omer Yutseven or Walker Kessler, two traditional seven-footers on the floor for the full 48 minutes against the Pelicans.

It paid off to the tune of 21 combined points, 18 rebounds, five assists, and four blocks, and one of the Jazz’s most consistent defensive efforts of the season.

“The shots that just aren’t taken because people turn the corner and they see those guys, that’s probably the hardest thing to account for or measure,” Hardy said after the game. “How many plays are they just not even trying to go to the rim because those guys are there?”

While it may be a new wrinkle to Hardy’s gameplan, it’s a familiar sight for Jazz fans who got used to seeing Rudy Gobert man the paint for 35 minutes a night through most of the last decade, only to be backed up by a player of the same ilk in Derrick Favors, Hassan Whiteside, or Ekpe Udoh.

But it’s not just defensively where the big bodies were felt.

“On the offensive end, those guys screening and rolling helps us create an advantage,” Hardy added. “We need people to put pressure on the rim in order to get good shots.”

The question Hardy now faces is whether to stick with the big lineup when Lauri Markkanen returns from his hamstring strain, or to revert to the former rotation with Yurtseven on the sidelines.

There might not be enough minutes in the rotation alongside Markkanen, John Collins, and Kelly Olynyk for both Kessler and Yurtseven to get consistent playing time each night, but it’s been a major strength in each of the Jazz’s last two wins, and an element the team had been missing on both ends.

Can Jazz Improve Without Markkanen?

Though Lauri Markkanen is one of the most unselfish All-Stars in the league, there’s been a noticeable uptick in the Jazz’s ball movement in the last two games with the Finnish forward off of the floor.

That’s not to fault Markkanen for the ball sticking when he is on the court, but a recognition that without an obvious go-to scoring option, the Jazz have been more willing to share the ball over the last two games.

“To have 31 assists on 37 made baskets with only 10 turnovers, based on some of the things we’ve seen so far this season would be considered a miracle,” Hardy said. “I think the team has just bought into regrouping and understanding that we don’t have one player that’s going to save us.”

Make no mistake, the Jazz are far better with Markkanen on the floor, and if they have any hope of turning this season around, they’ll need him to return to court as quickly as possible. But, they won’t reach their potential if they’re overreliant on him to save the offense, and the improved ball movement can be an asset for everyone on the roster, including Markkanen.

“Tonight I feel like it was one of our best nights as far as moving the ball and playing together,” Keyonte George added.

Not Every Move Is A Message

After Saturday’s win over New Orleans, a narrative emerged among the Jazz faithful that Will Hardy had sent a message to his roster, specifically Collin Sexton and Talen Horton-Tucker, by starting Kris Dunn and Simone Fontecchio in the absence of Markkanen and Clarkson, rather than the two higher-paid guards.

The lineup change came on the heels of a disappointing loss in Portland after which Hardy said, “We are either going to dig in and have the ability to learn or we’re going to have to make some real changes with who’s playing in the games.”

Some then believed Saturday’s lineup changes were a reflection of Hardy’s warning to his team.

Before Monday’s game, I asked Hardy about whether he intended to send a message to his roster with Saturday’s lineup.

“My intent was not to send a message, my intent was to put the people on the floor that I felt were going to give us the best chance to win,” Hardy said plainly.

“It wasn’t meant to punish anybody. It wasn’t meant to prove a point.”

However, Hardy said there are times when sending a message is appropriate, and believes it can be done with personnel changes.

“There are moments where as the coach you have to maybe find an alternate way to deliver your message to the team,” Hardy said. “Sometimes you can do that with the lineup, but that wasn’t necessarily my intent. It was more just about looking at how we had played the last couple of games, looking at the people that I think were doing their jobs appropriately and just putting those people on the floor to start the game.”

It’s worth noting, despite not starting on Saturday, Sexton played the entire fourth quarter in the Jazz’s come-from-behind victory, while Horton-Tucker played over eight minutes, more than starters Keyonte George and Kris Dunn combined.

In Monday’s win, Dunn was once again out of the rotation, while Sexton and Horton-Tucker combined for 15 points, seven assists, five rebounds, and four turnovers on 6-18 shooting.

Nightly Awards: Jazz vs. Pelicans

The “You Never Forget Your First” Award:

Goes to Jordan Clarkson and Keyonte George who picked up an incredible poster dunk against Pelicans guard Dyson Daniels en route to his career-high 19 points.

George said he first dunked when he was in eighth grade during warmups before a game in Las Vegas, but that this was his first true poster.

Clarkson applauded George’s impressive highlight and recalled his first own first poster dunk in the NBA, which coincidentally happened in Utah, against another young Australian guard.

“It was a steal, and I took it all the way,” Clarkson remembered, “I think it was on Dante Exum, not to namedrop.”

George has been working on finishing near the rim since he was drafted by the Jazz who identified that as a potential weakness in the rookie’s game.

The guard shot 2-4 inside the paint against the Pelicans.

Utah Jazz Next Broadcast

The Jazz will face the Grizzlies on Wednesday at 6 pm MST in Memphis. The game will be televised on KJZZ, streamed on Jazz+, and can be heard on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone.

Are you on Threads yet? Let’s connect, give us a follow @kslsports

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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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Jazz Go Big, Sweep Pelicans In Two-Game Home Series