After the much-needed All-Star break, the Jazz are back in action.
Utah returns to the court on Thursday night when they host Oklahoma City in a battle between two teams vying for the postseason. The Jazz enter the final stretch of the season No. 11 in the West rankings at 29-31 and sit just a half-game behind the Thunder, who sit at No. 10 at 28-29.
While most of the team was able to get away for a week, going to sunny and warm places such as Mexico, a handful of Jazzman spent the first part of their break in the snowcapped mountains of Salt Lake City for the All-Star break.
Lauri Markkanen, making his All-Star debut, competed in both the 72nd All-Star game and the Three-Point competition. Although he was eliminated in the opening round of the shootout, he responded with an excellent showing on Sunday night.
Despite being the final starter chosen for Team Giannis, Markkanen got off to a quick start when he threw down a halfcourt alley-top from former Jazzman Donovan Mitchell — much to the delight of Vivint Arena. After another alley-oop and a deep three, Markkanen had a quick seven points and was delivering on the show he promised to put on.
Overall, he finished with 13 points and seven rebounds on 6-of-13 shooting.
"Pretty surreal," Markkanen said about his first All-Star game. "I was excited to get out there the whole weekend. I mean, I got to participate in the 3-Point Contest, but this was what we were waiting for. … Just a great experience to be a part of. I can't wait to be here again."
While Markkanen wasn't the only current Jazz player to compete throughout the weekend, he was the only one who left without a trophy.
Jordan Clarkson, Walker Kessler, and Collin Sexton led Team Utah to a victory in the 2023 Kia Skills Challenge as part of NBA All-Star Saturday Night. After struggling in the team relay portion, the guys responded with great showings in the passing and shooting competitions to defeat Team Antetokounmpo and Team Rookies.
"Work smarter, not harder" was the team's strategy, according to Clarkson.
While Kessler was quick to take credit for the strategy in the shooting part, which ultimately led to the overall win, Sexton was in agreement but wanted to make sure it didn't go to his rookie's head.
"Walk definitely came up with the strategy, and it worked," Sexton said with a laugh. "It definitely worked, and we give him credit. … But this might be the last credit we ever give you."
Utah returns to action for what should be a thrilling final 22 games of the season.
Currently outside the playoff picture, Utah is one of 11 teams separated by just six games in the standings. While the Jazz may be a half-game behind the Thunder for the 10th and final play-in spot, they're just two games behind Dallas for the 6-seed (and avoiding the play-in altogether) and 3.5 games behind the Clippers for homecourt advantage in the first round.
Utah (29-31, 18-12 home / No. 11 Western Conference)
Offense*117.6 Points Per Game (No. 5 in NBA)
*116.7 Offensive Rating (No. 4 in NBA)
Defense*117.2 Points Per Game (No. 24 in NBA)
*116.1 Defensive Rating (No. 26 in NBA)
*Lauri Markkanen: 24.9 points | 8.6 rebounds | 1.8 assists | 41.3% 3P-shooting
*Jordan Clarkson: 21.0 points | 4.2 assists | 4.1 rebounds | 34.5% 3P-shooting
*Kelly Olynyk: 12.1 points | 5.3 rebounds | 3.3 assists | 40.5% 3P-shooting
Oklahoma City (28-29, 11-17 away / No. 10 Western Conference)
*117.9 Points Per Game (No. 3 in NBA)
*114.1 Offensive Rating (No. 13 in NBA)
*116.2 Points Per Game (No. 20 in NBA)
*112.6 Defensive Rating (No. 11 in NBA)
*Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: 30.8 points | 5.7 assists | 4.7 rebounds | 34.3% 3P-shooting
*Josh Giddey: 16.3 points | 7.8 rebounds | 5.9 assists
*Luguentz Dort: 14.0 points | 4.1 rebounds | 2.2 assists | 35.6% 3P-shooting
KEY MATCHUP*Lauri Markkanen vs. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
— While they aren’t expected to defend one another, the battle for the NBA’s Most Improved Player is coming down to a two-man battle between Markkanen and SGA. Either one of them can win based on the massive steps they’ve taken forward this season — which means the head-to-head matchup could serve as a proverbial tiebreaker of sorts.
UtahOUT | Collin Sexton (left hamstring strain)
OUT | Micah Potter (G League - Two-Way)
Oklahoma CityOUT | Ousmane Dieng (G League - On Assignment)
OUT | Chet Holmgren (Right Foot; Surgery)
OUT | Aleksej Pokusevski (Left Tibial Plateau; Non-displaced fracture)
Time: 7:00 p.m. MT
Location: Vivint Arena |Salt Lake City, UT
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: The Zone Sports Network