"Gotta Love It" | Despite Being Shorthanded, Utah Looks To Continue Postseason Push Against Sacramento

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

Following Saturday’s stunning victory over Boston, Lauri Markkanen had many reasons to laugh and smile. 

Not only did the Jazz win in comeback fashion, but he also dropped a game-high 28 points. He also finished with his 27th double-double of the year, dropping 12 points in the pivotal fourth quarter. Markkanen also won the battle with Boston’s Jayson Tatum, further making his case for All-NBA consideration. 

Despite all of the winning moments from Saturday, what got Markkanen celebrating the most was what happened postgame. He gave a double fist pump and a laugh when asked about head coach Will Hardy’s words referring to the ‘Senior Council.’

“One of them wears a backwards hat a lot. … And the other one is from Finland,” Hardy said about the two members. 

Those comments came on the heels of Utah going back to a zone defense, a concept they haven’t run since early in the season. Hardy elected to switch things up against the Celtics midway through the second quarter, and it proved to be one heck of a decision. The Jazz not only won the remaining quarters, but they also watched Boston’s point total go down every quarter. 

“I was talked into bringing it back and giving it some more love by a couple of Senior Council members on the team,” Hardy said. “So we decided to bring it back and work on it some more. We worked on it the last couple days of practice and thought it’d be a fun opportunity to try to bring it out.”

When told of those comments, Markkanen was thrilled to receive the credit — and even more that the 25-year-old was referred to as a “senior” team member. 

“I guess when the old guys say we are going to try and something, we’re going to try it out,” Markkanen said. “Chaos. … I’m not going to give a scouting report, but I’m sure it was pretty obvious. It’s us working together, flying around, messing with their rhythm, and making them hesitate on their decision-making.”

"We definitely advocated for it," Kelly Olynyk, one of the senior council members, said. "I mean, we were probably one of the tallest front courts in the NBA.”

Markkanen and Olynyk can be as thrilled as they want following that victory, but the real win came from Hardy. 

In his first season, he’s already established and built a culture within the program; the Jazz are going to play hard, they’re going to play for 48 minutes. There’s also an insane amount of trust between the coach and his players, one that allows ideas to be curated and made possible on both ends.

“He’s awesome,” Olynyk said of Hardy. “He’s super open-minded, he’s an outside-the-box thinker and loves that kind of stuff and all the different opportunities and possibilities. … I think he’s someone who you can approach, and he’ll really take your suggestions into consideration.”

“You know, sometimes you go to a restaurant, and you see a suggestion box, and you never really know if those get read, but he’ll read every one of them. … Gotta love it.”

Utah will look to continue its push to the postseason when they face the Sacramento Kings on Monday night — a big game for both teams as they’re each battling for playoff positioning. 

The Jazz are tangled up with six teams battling for the four spots in the play-in tournament, with only two games separating No. 7 Golden State and No. 12 New Orleans. Meanwhile, the Kings are tied with Memphis for the No. 2 seed — and sit just 3.5 games back of the struggling Nuggets. 

Utah (34-36, 21-13 home / No. 10 Western Conference)
*117.2 Points Per Game (No. 6 in NBA)
*116.0 Offensive Rating (No. 6 in NBA)
*117.2 Points Per Game (No. 22 in NBA)
*115.8 Defensive Rating (No. 25 in NBA)
*Lauri Markkanen: 25.4 points | 8.6 rebounds | 1.8 assists | 40.2% 3P-shooting
*Jordan Clarkson: 20.8 points | 4.4 assists | 4.0 rebounds | 33.8% 3P-shooting
*Kelly Olynyk: 12.0 points | 5.7 rebounds | 3.4 assists | 39.3% 3P-shooting
*Kris Dunn: 11.1 points | 4.9 assists | 4.5 rebounds | 36.8% 3P-shooting

Sacramento (43-27, 22-13 away / No. 2 Western Conference)

*121.1 Points Per Game (No. 1 in NBA)
*118.7 Offensive Rating (No. 1 in NBA)
*118.2 Points Per Game (No. 27 in NBA)
*115.8 Defensive Rating (No. 24 in NBA)
*De’Aaron Fox: 25.3 points | 6.2 assists | 4.3 rebounds | 33.1% 3P-shooting
*Domantas Sabonis: 19.2 points | 12.5 rebounds | 7.2 assists | 35.5% 3P-shooting
*Kevin Huerter: 15.0 points | 3.2 rebounds | 2.9 assists | 40.8% 3P-shooting
*Harrison Barnes: 15.0 points | 4.7 rebounds | 37.1% 3P-shooting

*Ochai Agbaji vs. Kevin Huerter
— In a matchup that will feature three potential All-NBA candidates, arguably the most important battle will come down to the three-point shooting of Agbaji and Huerter. Their ability to stretch the floor opens is vital to the success of the offenses — which is a large reason why both teams are top five offenses.

`SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MARCH 18: Ochai Agbaji #30 of the Utah Jazz shoots the ball during the game on March 18, 2023 at vivint.SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)


QUESTIONABLE | Lauri Markkanen (back soreness)
OUT | Jordan Clarkson (left hand - fourth finger sprain)
OUT | Micah Potter (G League - Two-Way)
OUT | Collin Sexton (left hamstring strain)
OUT | Neemias Queta (G League - Two-Way)
QUESTIONABLE | Kevin Huerter (right popliteus strain)
QUESTIONABLE | Trey Lyles (right shoulder soreness)

 7:00 p.m. MT
Location: Vivint Arena |Salt Lake City, UT
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: The Zone Sports Network