Slow Stars Dooms Jazz Against Thunder

Jan 18, 2024, 10:43 PM

Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson Brice Sensabaugh...

Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

(Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – The Oklahoma City Thunder jumped on the Utah Jazz early and escaped with a 134-129 victory in Salt Lake City.

Collin Sexton and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander both scored 31 points to lead their teams, but it was Jalen Williams’s 11-point fourth quarter on 4-4 shooting that helped the Thunder seal the deal.

The Jazz now embark on a six-game road trip over the next 13 days before returning home.

Thunder Hot Start Dooms Jazz

The Jazz outscored the Thunder 114-100 over the final 40 minutes of the game, but after falling behind 34-15 in the first quarter, the steep hill proved too much to overcome.

Over the first nine minutes of the game, Oklahoma City shot 13-20 from the floor including 3-6 from the three-point line to build themselves an intimidating lead.

The Jazz shot an efficient 6-12 in the same stretch, but their six turnovers and five personal fouls allowed the Thunder to score with ease as they pulled away in the first quarter.

Though the Jazz fully erased the 19-point deficit with 3:01 left in the third quarter, they saw their momentum dashed by the second-year Williams.

After trailing 98-95 to open the fourth quarter, the Thunder sophomore poured in 11 of his 27 points in the final frame on perfect 4-4 shooting to lead Oklahoma City to victory.

Jazz Have Played Most Games In NBA

After facing the Thunder the Jazz have played 43 games, tied with the Chicago Bulls for the most in the NBA.

And, had Wednesday’s game against the Golden State Warriors not been postponed, they would have stood alone as the only team in the league to have played 44 games on the year.

That means over the final three months of the season, the Jazz will play at least one fewer game than 28 other teams in the league, and as many as five fewer than the Charlotte Hornets who have played just 38 games as of Thursday night.

How much does that matter over the next 87 days before the end of the regular season?

“The players notice physically for sure,” Will Hardy said of the Jazz’s heavy workload. “It’s felt like we’ve played a lot.”

The Jazz have played eight sets of back-to-back games already this season, and have just four more scheduled over the next three months to close the year.

Conversely, the Jazz have seven different occasions when they have at least two days off between games before they close the season, after having just six such instances since opening night.

“You look forward to those pockets when you can get a couple of days between games here and there,” Hardy added. “I think those are when you really see the players have the ability to reboot when there’s two days between a game. We haven’t had that often, and those moments are when I think I will feel, and the players will feel very rested coming into that next game.”

Despite the added days off over the next three months, the Jazz still have one of the more difficult schedules remaining in the NBA including matchups at home against the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, and the Philadelphia 76ers.

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They also have two games remaining against each of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets, and the Thunder.

That means nearly a quarter of the Jazz’s remaining games this season are against the top six teams in the NBA. So while the frequency of games may lessen, the difficulty of games will not.

On the bright side, after heading out on their six-game road trip beginning Saturday against the Houston Rockets, the Jazz will play 20 of their final 33 games at home.

Will Hardy Remembers Dejan Milojevic

Hardy, like seemingly most people around the NBA had a connection to Golden State Warriors assistant coach Dejan Milojevic who tragically passed away on Wednesday in Salt Lake City after suffering a heart attack at a team dinner.

Before Thursday’s contest, the Jazz coach offers his thoughts on Milojevic.

“Dejan was on our staff in San Antonio where I coached summer league, he is as advertised — one of the most joyous, happy, positive people I’ve ever been around in my life.”

Milojevic, 46, had a 15-year career professionally playing basketball overseas before becoming a coach with Mega Basket from 2012-20 and Buducnost in 2021.

Related: Jazz Offer Condolences To Milojevic Family, Warriors

“The way that he treated me every single day as the head coach of the summer league team, the way that he dealt with my scattered self, coaching a summer league team, trying to figure it out was tremendous,” Hardy remembered.

“But more than that, I’ll just remember — when you’re together for a month over the course of a summer league — you spend a lot of time together away from the court, eating dinner, and spending time, so I was lucky to call him a friend. I wish I got to know him better.”

Milojevic joined the Warriors as an assistant in 2021 and won a championship with the team in 2022.

Utah Jazz Next Broadcast

The Jazz will face the Rockets on Saturday at 6 pm MST in Houston. 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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Slow Stars Dooms Jazz Against Thunder