"Obvious Who The Game Ball Goes To" | Five Things To Know Following Utah's Victory Over Houston

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

After a string of close games resulted in a five-game losing streak, the Jazz made sure there wouldn't be another close finish on Thursday night.

Using a 19-3 run late in the fourth quarter, Utah ran away from Houston and picked up the 131-114 victory.

"It's hard to maintain the appropriate approach when you've had five tough games in a row like we did, and it's just a credit to our team," head coach Will Hardy said. "The guys we have in the locker room and their ability to maintain a focus, dig in and have each other's backs when things aren't going their way, I think is really special, and that's why our fans love this team."

Here are five things to know following the win:

1.) Special Night For Markkanen
As Lauri Markkanen's official All-Star campaign manager, Walker Kessler's services may no longer be required. It's no longer a discussion; Markkanen should be an NBA All-Star — and Thursday night proved as much for The Finnisher.

Markkanen continued his recent hot streak with his fourth 30-point game in his last eight, finishing with a career-high 49 points and eight rebounds. He shot 15-of-27 from the field, 6-of-15 from deep, and a perfect 13-for-13 from the free throw line, scoring a career-high for points in a quarter with 18 in the first.

His ability to score at all three levels continues to separate Markkanen from others and garner all the praise. He knocked down catch-and-shoot threes, got into the lane for two-handed dunks, and took advantage of his height in the midrange.

"Lauri's done such a good job of continuing to work on different ways he can impact the game offensively," Hardy said. "Obviously he's shown the ability to shoot the ball. … But the physicality he's been able to play with, to drive the ball and as a screener, has given him the opportunity to score in a variety of ways."

2.) Career-High For Ochai
After bouncing between the NBA and G-League this season, rookie Ochai Agbaji had the best game of his career. He made the most of his extra minutes when he finished with a career-high 11 points by shooting 3-of-4 from three-point territory.

Another huge contributor off the bench who helped pick up for Sexton's absence, all of his points came in the crucial fourth quarter as the Rockets tried to climb back into the game. He also showed off his impressive athleticism with a driving dunk over Houston's Tari Eason that ignited Utah's bench.

After Hardy said earlier in the week that it was time for the rookie to get some more minutes, Agbaji rewarded his head coach with a good effort on the defensive end.

"I think it's obvious who the game ball goes to. … It goes to Ochai Agbaji," Hardy said. "Lauri's a very good player, and he had 49 points, but Ochai also had his career-high. I have a lot of respect for Ochai and the way he's approached his work every day so far this season. … It's really to do what Ochai just did, and he delivered and stepped up big time for us."

3.) Beasley On Fire
With Collin Sexton out recovering from a hamstring strain, a lot more pressure fell onto the shoulders of Beasley. Combined, they help lead one of the top bench units in the league — so with Sexton out, a lot of that scoring and responsibility had to come from him.

No problem.

Despite entering Thursday's game with the fifth-most made threes in the league, Beasley proved that he's over his recent cold streak when he shot 5-of-7 from deep and finished with 19 points in just 20 minutes. Beasley was the spark the Jazz needed, showing the ability to get to the rim and finish.

4.) Kessler Has A New Job
Apart from being one of the best rookies this season, Kessler apparently has taken on a new role within the Jazz organization — even if it's essentially an unpaid internship.

Announced on Thursday morning, he's Markkanen's official campaign manager, with the goal of getting him to the NBA All-Star Game in February.

The Jazz released a video regarding Kessler's unique marketing approach, which includes an impressive sweatshirt promoting The Finnisher. While each team member was thrilled to endorse their teammate by taking the sweatshirt, Markkanen made sure it was known that he wasn't paying Kessler — an issue the rookie had no problem with.

5.) Officially Halfway
Utah has finally reached the midway point of the season — tied with Detroit for the most game played.

While many expected this team to be closer to the bottom of the standings, the Jazz are currently in 10th place in the Western Conference, the final spot of the play-in tournament. Sitting at 20-21, they're just two games behind the No. 6 spot, completely avoiding the tournament altogether.

Most impressively, they're a combined 6-2 against the top three teams in the West, proving more than capable of competing with anyone in the league.

"Obviously good to get back in the win column after a couple of tough games," head coach Will Hardy said. "I thought our team's approach tonight was great, came out moving the ball with 33 assists. It's a team win, as it always is for us. … I'm just really happy for the guys."