Jazz Trounce Raptors, Hit .500, Leap Lakers

Jan 12, 2024, 11:01 PM | Updated: Jan 16, 2024, 10:44 am

The Utah Jazz blew out the Indiana Pacers 132-105 to earn their sixth straight victory. Lauri Markkanen scored 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds despite playing just 28 minutes and resting the entire fourth quarter. The Pacers were led by Buddy Hield and Andrew Nembhard who each scored 14 points.

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz eviscerated the Toronto Raptors 145-113 pulling to .500 for the first time since October 27.

Lauri Markkanen, Jordan Clarkson, and Collin Sexton combined for 63 points as the Jazz knocked down 21 threes in the victory.

With the win the Jazz leaped the Los Angeles Lakers in the standings and own the 10th seed outright in the Western Conference.

 Jazz Best Last Year’s Record

With their win over the Raptors, the Jazz own a record of 20-20, outpacing last year’s roster for the first time this season.

The Jazz started the 2022-23 campaign with a surprising 10-3 record but won just nine of their next 27 games to fall to 19-21 through their first 40 contests.

The 2023-24 roster has done nearly the complete opposite, opening the year 4-11, before winning 16 of their last 25.

“We’re trending in a far different direction at this point than we were last year,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said. “I also just think that we have settled in a little bit as a group right now.”

The Jazz turnaround in earnest began on November 25 when without Markkanen in the lineup, the team swept the New Orleans Hornets in a two-game series in Salt Lake City.

After dropping five of their next six games, Markkanen returned to the lineup against the New York Knicks and the Jazz have since won 13 of their last 17 games to turn the once-lost season into a compelling Cinderella story.

Will Hardy’s Faith In Will Hardy

When the Jazz were sitting at 7-16 to open the year, and closer to the 15th seed in the West than the 10th, it was hard to see how the team could turn the season around.

Hardy admitted that he had moments where he was unsure vision for the team would translate on the court.

“I’m a human being and there’s definitely days of doubt and there’s moments where you’re driving home going like, ‘Is this actually going to work?'” Hardy said.

But after their rocky start, the Jazz have transformed rapidly into one of the league’s most dangerous teams, and are firmly entrenched in the Western Conference playoff chase.

“I believe in what we’re doing,” Hardy stated. “It’s noisy when things aren’t going well and everybody wants to tell you what they think you should do.”

Despite calls to hand the reigns over to the Jazz’s younger players to better position the team for a full-on rebuild, the second-year coach bet on himself.

“When everything was at its quietest and you got to really sit down and think about it — like this is what you believe,” Hardy said. “Don’t let the emotion of the moment take over and make you cut bait on something that you do truly think is going to be the key to where we want to go.”

Though there may have been doubts from voices outside the team, the 35-year-old and his staff stuck with their message, and now 40 games into the season, they’re reaping the reward.

“When you get in front of the team, you’re trying to sell them on it because we need their buy-in on anything that you want to work,” Hardy concluded.

The team has bought in and over the 15 games leading into their matchup with the Raptors, it was reflected on both ends of the floor.

The Jazz owned the 12th-best offense in the NBA, bested by their 10th-ranked defense en route to an 11-4 record.

“It’s not always easy,” Hardy admitted. “But I’ve tried my best to stick to my guns.”

Jazz Face Quick Turnaround Against Lakers

After facing the Raptors the Jazz have a quick turnaround as they prepare to host the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday in a rare home back-to-back.

The Jazz and Lakers sit in the 10th and 11th seeds in the West, giving Saturday’s game potential playoff implications.

The Lakers won the first matchup between the two teams 131-99 in LA on November 21.

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Lauri Markkanen scored a season-low 10 points in the loss. Seven Lakers scored in double-digits led by Anthony Davis who scored 26 points.

The two teams will meet only three times this season, making Saturday’s contest a must-win if the Jazz hope to preserve an opportunity to control the season series.

While the Jazz are surging the Lakers have hit a rough patch over the last month.

After winning the inaugural In-Season Tournament on December 7, the Lakers are just 5-11 including Thursday’s 217-109 loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Night Awards: Jazz vs. Raptors

The “Highlight was not the Highlight” Award:

Goes to Taylor Hendricks who along with Brice Sensabaugh played the final 3:39 of the game for the Jazz.

The two combined for 11 points on 4-6 shooting, including the first two made buckets of Sensabaugh’s NBA career.

However, it wasn’t Hendricks’ 2-2 three-point shooting that caught my eye, it was this pass to Luka Samanic for the easy layup.

Hendricks was a better passer in college than he got credit for as he made a lot of quick reads to find his teammates.

However, most of his catches came in the paint so he didn’t have a chance to show off his skills on the perimeter, and he was usually better off looking for his own shot.

The Jazz are clearly trying to develop Hendricks as a perimeter player, and these types of passes will go a long way to cementing him into that role.

Utah Jazz Next Game

The Jazz will face the Lakers on Saturday at 7:30 pm MST in Salt Lake City. 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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Jazz Trounce Raptors, Hit .500, Leap Lakers