This Game Preview is brought to you by University of Utah Health
Sometimes, there's nothing like coming home.
After a difficult road trip in which the Jazz felt they had a legitimate chance to win all three games, Utah finally returns to the comfortable confines of Vivint Arena when they host the Miami Heat in the final game of 2022.
For the Jazz, they understand that they squandered three opportunities to pad their record in the crowded Western Conference. They were competitive in each game, losing by an average of 3.3 points while being in them to the very end.
But that's the nature of the NBA, and especially the West. If Utah would've pulled out the wins, they'd be the No. 4 seed — Instead, they sit at 19-19 and in the 10th spot.
While the wins would've been nice, the Jazz understand that they're playing for much more than just victories. They're doing everything possible to ensure that their star forward gets invited to the All-Star game in February.
Lauri Markkanen has been sensational this season, particularly in the last three games. He's averaging 32.3 points and 11 rebounds in those games, shooting 62.9% from the floor, 36.7% from beyond the arc, and 94.7% from the free throw line.
"He's an all-star, showing the world what he can do," point guard Mike Conley said of Markkanen. "It's unbelievable how he's getting better and better as the season goes on. We have, as a team, figured out that he's our guy and are finding ways to put him in the best spot possible. … for him, that's anywhere on the court."
"He's a matchup nightmare," Kelly Olynyk added. "He's shooting the ball unbelievably the whole season really. He's tough to guard. … You can't take away one thing."
While Markkanen is focused on Utah's win-loss record more than he is regarding his own All-Star candidacy, his teammates see it as two-fold. They understand that the better they play, the more games they win. And the more games they win, the harder it will be for The Finnisher to be left off the roster in February.
"Lauri's been playing his butt off this whole week scoring and stuff. … If we get those wins for him this week, it's a big week for him," Jordan Clarkson said. "As a team, we're going to look back at the tape, we're going to take a lot from these (losses) and try to string some wins together in this time before the All-Star break."
While he may have won the individual battle with Sacramento star Domantas Sabonis on Friday, Saturday's showdown with Miami and its two-headed monster of Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo provide an entirely different matchup.
It stands to reason that both of them will take turns guarding Utah's leading scorer throughout the night — but what makes them so difficult to play against is that they use their physicality to their advantage.
Still, the Jazz are looking to bounce back from the tough losses, taking in the message that head coach Will Hardy has for them and applying it to Saturday night. Because, in all honesty, the only game that truly matters is the next one.
"The message, in general, is that there's nothing we can do about this game now. … It's about us regrouping and getting to the game tomorrow in the right headspace," Hardy said Friday night. "I think it's about maintaining our approach. … It's about maintaining our togetherness as a group and understanding that in the NBA, it's really hard to win."
Utah (19-19, 12-5 home / No. 10 Western Conference)
*117.1 Points Per Game (No. 4 in NBA)
*115.7 Offensive Rating (No. 4 in NBA)
*116.3 Points Per Game (No. 23 in NBA)
*114.6 Defensive Rating (No. 26 in NBA)
*Lauri Markkanen: 23.6 points | 8.3 rebounds | 2.0 assists | 43.1% 3P-shooting
*Jordan Clarkson: 20.5 points | 4.5 assists | 3.9 rebounds | 35.4% 3P-shooting
*Collin Sexton: 14.1 points | 2.9 assists | 2.2 rebounds | 37.2% 3P-shooting
*Mike Conley: 9.9 points | 7.5 assists | 35.8% 3P-shooting
Miami (18-18, 7-10 away / No. 7 Eastern Conference)
*108.5 Points Per Game (No. 30 in NBA)
*110.3 Offensive Rating (No. 25 in NBA)
*109.3 Points Per Game (No. 4 in NBA)
*111.3 Defensive Rating (No. 8 in NBA)
*Jimmy Butler: 21.8 points | 6.7 rebounds | 5.8 assists | 34.0% 3P-shooting
*Tyler Herro: 21.1 points | 6.0 rebounds | 4.6 assists | 39.6% 3P-shooting
*Bam Adebayo: 20.9 points | 9.8 rebounds | 3.2 assists
*Kyle Lowry: 14.0 points | 5.9 assists | 4.7 rebounds | 35.6% 3P-shooting
*Lauri Markkanen vs. Jimmy Butler
— The two best players on each team — players who should be named All-Stars in February — will be the highlight of this one. Markkanen is having the best season of his career and has been unstoppable as of late. Meanwhile, Butler is proving that he’s still a force to be reckoned with and can literally will his team to victory. How Markkanen handles Miami’s physicality and how Butler deals with Utah’s length on the interior could be the deciding factors in this one.
OUT | Johnny Juzang (G League - Two-Way)
OUT | Micah Potter (G League - Two-Way)
Time: 7:00 p.m. MT
Location: Vivint Arena |Salt Lake City, UT
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: The Zone Sports Network