Jazz Open Road Trip With Loss To Shorthanded Cavaliers
Dec 20, 2023, 8:12 PM | Updated: Dec 21, 2023, 10:25 am
SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz started their five-game road trip on the wrong foot falling to the shorthanded Cleveland Cavaliers 124-116.
The Cavaliers were missing their top three scorers Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, and Evan Mobley, but still knocked down 23 three-pointers, led by former Utah State Aggies guard Sam Merrill who knocked down eight threes en route to a 27-point career-high.
The Jazz were led by Lauri Markkanen who scored 26 points against his former team.
Cavaliers Dismiss Jazz To Open Road Trip
Having won three of their last four outings before beginning their five-game holiday road trip, the Jazz had a chance to build on their momentum against a decimated Cavaliers roster.
However, it was Cleveland who jumped out to a quick start building a 14-7 lead early in the first quarter, growing that lead to nine after 12 minutes, and leading by six at the break.
The Jazz erased the deficit in the third quarter, but gave up a 14-0 run to end the third and begin the fourth, and never closed the gap over the final 10 minutes of the game.
If the Jazz are truly hoping to turn this season around, it has to begin with getting more wins on the road.
Strus triple to go up 10 late as the Cavs win their 3rd in a row 🔥 pic.twitter.com/5ZpoD9ZGhu
— NBA (@NBA) December 21, 2023
Playing a team that was missing its three best players is the type of opportunity the Jazz need to capitalize on as they learn to win away from home, but they resorted to their traditional road mistakes late in the game.
“Part of us growing as a group is recognizing that with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter, a 10 point game is nothing in the NBA now,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said. “So we just really need to stick with the plan, stick with our spacing, and trust each other — nobody has to save us.”
The Jazz shot just 5-14 in the fourth quarter including 0-6 from the three-point line. They committed four turnovers, recorded just one assist, and allowed the Cavaliers to score 32 points including seven made threes.
The Jazz road trip is not lost, as opportunities to get wins over the struggling Detroit Pistons, the Toronto Raptors, and the San Antonio Spurs lie ahead.
But the Jazz could have gone into those games with more confidence had they beat the Cavaliers, but they let the game get away.
Taylor Hendricks Out Of The Lineup
Taylor Hendricks did not see the floor against the Cavaliers as the Jazz had their full complement of frontcourt players.
The rookie forward didn’t play in the second half of the team’s win over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday, and saw only seven minutes in the the first half, finishing with a team-worst -8 plus-minus.
Hendricks could be a candidate to rejoin the Salt Lake City Stars in the G League, but with Markkanen continuing to rehab his hamstring injury, the Jazz may need him in emergency situations.
John with the hot hand and back-to-back threes 🌶️ pic.twitter.com/PP2gzZUBH0
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) December 21, 2023
Hardy said after the loss to the Cavaliers that while Markkanen is 100 percent healthy in single-game situations, playing in back-to-backs could be a different story.
With the Jazz facing a quick turnaround in Detroit on Thursday night, Hendricks services could be needed once again.
Regardless, Hendricks made the most of his first stint with the Stars, and if he can’t find the floor with the Jazz while their frontcourt is healthy, he’d be better served to continue his development in the G League.
Nightly Awards: Jazz vs. Cavaliers
The “Hometown Hero” Award Goes To:
Sam Merrill who has now posted back-to-back career-highs recording 19 points in the Cavaliers’ overtime win over the Houston Rockets on Monday before his 27-point explosion against the Jazz.
Merrill is arguably the most exciting player to pass through a Utah university since Jimmer Fredette, and appears to be on the verge of doing something the former BYU superstar never could.
While Fredette’s limited size was a significant setback in the NBA, Merrill’s 6-foot-5, 200-pound frame gives him a real chance to stick in the league.
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) December 21, 2023
Though he’s only made 56 career appearances over his four-year career, Merrill has knocked down more than 40 percent of his three-point shots on more than 2.5 attempts per game.
In today’s NBA, elite shooters can find a home as long as they aren’t completely void of other recognizable basketball skills.
Against the Jazz, Merrill showed some ability to put the ball on the floor, and handed out two assists while grabbing three rebounds in 30 minutes.
The Cavaliers season has gotten off to a rough start, but Merrill might be the type of high-energy spark of the bench that could turn their year around.
Utah Jazz Next Broadcast
The Jazz will face the Pistons on Thursday at 5 pm MST in Detroit. The game will be televised on KJZZ, streamed on Jazz+, and can be heard on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone.
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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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