After opening the season by losing 16 of their first 23 games, the Utah Jazz have undergone a transformation in recent weeks.
Utah is 9-2 over its last 11 games heading into a matchup against the Toronto Raptors on Friday in Salt Lake City. Utah’s current three-game winning streak includes impressive victories over the Philadelphia 76ers, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Denver Nuggets.
The Jazz turned in another dominant performance in their 124-111 home win over Denver on Wednesday. Jordan Clarkson had 27 points and nine assists against the defending NBA champions, while Lauri Markkanen added 26 points and Collin Sexton had 22.
After experimenting with different starting lineups this season, Utah coach Will Hardy appears to have found the perfect combination in Kris Dunn, Sexton, Simone Fontecchio, Markkanen, and John Collins.
Settling on a consistent starting five has had a positive effect on the Jazz bench, which outscored the Nuggets’ reserves 53-38 on Wednesday.
Utah reserves Clarkson, Keyonte George, Ochai Agbaji, Kelly Olynyk and Walker Kessler have each played key roles in the team’s surge into playoff contention.
“We’ve just mixed and matched and put ingredients into the soup and kind of figured out what’s worked and what hasn’t worked,” Olynyk said. “We’re at the point where guys know their roles, and they are trying to be stars in their roles, and it’s all just working right now.”
Clarkson is averaging 20.7 points on 48.9 percent shooting in his last six games. He was 12-of-19 shooting against Denver, including three 3-pointers.
“Jordan is understanding the impact that he can have on the entire team,” Hardy said. “He is just in a really good flow right now. I think he’s seeing that you can still score a lot of points and move the ball.”
Utah has won its last three meetings and six of seven against Toronto, which fell to 2-3 on its six-game road trip with a 126-120 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.
Immanuel Quickley scored 25 points and RJ Barrett added 24 for the Raptors, who rallied in the fourth quarter despite playing without Pascal Siakam (back spasms) and Jakob Poeltl (sprained left ankle).
“A couple of missed opportunities, got to do a better job with rotations to take away some layups and a couple of opportunities for us where we created easy shots around the rim that didn’t go our way,” Toronto coach Darko Rajakovic said. “I thought we did a really good job today competing from the very start of the game.”
While Poeltl will be re-evaluated in two weeks, Toronto is hoping to have Siakam back to face the Jazz. He is listed as questionable.
The injuries resulted in more playing time for the trio of Thaddeus Young, Jontay Porter and Garrett Temple, who combined for 20 points against the Clippers.
Porter made a case for increased playing time after recording nine points, seven rebounds and four assists off the bench. The second-year pro signed a two-way contract with Toronto on Dec. 9.
“I just think that he’s an all-around good player. He’s got good court vision, I think he’s a really good 3-point shooter, and defensively he’s actually doing better than I expected,” Rajakovic said of Porter. “He’s really proving he belongs in this league.”
–Field Level Media
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