Shorthanded Jazz Compete, Fall Short Against Nuggets

Apr 9, 2024, 10:09 PM

Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson in street clothes...

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

(Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz dropped their 13th consecutive game, falling at the Delta Center 111-95 to the West-leading Denver Nuggets.

With Lauri Markkanen (shoulder), John Collins (back), Jordan Clarkson (SI), Walker Kessler (nose), Kris Dunn (foot), and Collin Sexton (illness) all missing Tuesday’s game, Talen Horton-Tucker led the Jazz with 24 points on 10-23 shooting.

Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray combined to shoot 23-40 as they each scored 28 points in the Nuggets victory.

The Jazz kept the game close over the first 42 minutes of action, but Murray rallied to score 10 straight points midway through the fourth quarter as the Nuggets pulled away late.

How Losing Jordan Clarkson Has Hurt Jazz

Buried in the numerous storylines amid the Jazz’s 3-24 stretch since the NBA trade deadline is the effect Jordan Clarkson’s absence has had on the team, specifically rookie Keyonte George.

After shooting 40 percent from the floor, 36 percent from the three-point line, and turning the ball over only twice per game in his first 58 appearances with the Jazz, George has seen his production plummet.

Before facing Denver on Tuesday, the 20-year-old was shooting just 33 percent from the floor, 20 percent from three, and turning the ball over 3.7 times per game in his last 13 appearances.

George again struggled against the Nuggets, scoring 10 points on 4-11 shooting, including 2-9 from the three-point line, while turning the ball over five times in 30 minutes.

When looking for a cause for George’s precipitous decline, Clarkson’s absence sticks out like a sore thumb.

“Keyonte has drawn a different level of defender since Jordan has been out,” Hardy said. “I think he’s also drawn a different level of attention from the other teams and their game plans.”

George’s drop in production, specifically as a shooter, began on March 15 when he shot 1-7 from the three-point line against the Atlanta Hawks.

That March 15 game was also the beginning of the end of Clarkson’s 2023-24 campaign, marking the first of what would be 13 absences over the next 14 games.

Beyond his shooting numbers, Hardy elaborated on how George’s burden has changed since Clarkson left the rotation.

“One, it’s the pressure that he feels on those shots, and how tight the windows are. Secondly, how much harder he’s having to work over the course of the game, and so he’s feeling fatigued in a very different way.”

Related: Jazz Launch Keyonte George All-Rookie Campaign

Prior to his injury, Clarkson had a usage rate of over 25 percent, the second-highest on the Jazz, trailing only Collin Sexton.

With Clarkson and Sexton finishing more than a quarter of the team’s possession when they were on the floor, George’s usage rate sat at 21 percent, the fifth-highest on the team.

Since March 15, George’s usage rate has climbed to 25, the third-highest on the team, and now rivals the load previously carried by Clarkson.

“Jordan has the ability to alleviate some pressure for everybody because there’s moments where he has the ball and you can kind of take a deep breath,” Hardy concluded.

While George’s dip in production over the final month of the season may have caused some hand-wringing among Jazz fans, a return to form may be as simple as finding another capable backcourt player to help lessen his workload.

Utah Jazz Standings Watch After Nuggets Loss

After their loss to the Nuggets, the Jazz sit a full two games clear of the Brooklyn Nets for the eighth-worst record in the NBA with just three games left in the regular season.

The Jazz can guarantee themselves no worse than the eighth-best draft lottery odds with any combination of two losses, or two Brooklyn wins over the next three games.

Related: What Happens If Jazz Win The Draft Lottery?

With the Memphis Grizzlies loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, any hope of the Jazz finishing with the seventh-worst record in the NBA was likely dashed.

The Jazz would need the Grizzlies to win two of their final three games to keep the door open, but with matchups against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers, and the Nuggets, all of whom are still competing for playoff seeding over the final week, that ship has likely sailedJazz’sah Jazz Next Broadcast

The Jazz will face the Houston Rockets in their final home game of the season on Thursday at 7 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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Shorthanded Jazz Compete, Fall Short Against Nuggets