Call it whatever you want, but Utah's redemption tour continues.
After dispatching Detroit two nights ago, the Jazz will look to avenge an early-season loss when they host the Washington Wizards on Thursday night — tipoff is set for 7 p.m. MST. It will be Utah's final game before Christmas.
The good news for the Jazz is that Lauri Markkanen and Jarred Vanderbilt enter Thursday night playing some of the best basketball of their careers.
Markkanen has planted himself in the All-Star conversation after a memorable night against Detroit. He hit a career-high nine three-pointers en route to tying his career-high of 38 points, shooting 13-for-20 from the floor and 9-of-13 from beyond the arc.
What made his night so special was that after he dropped 16 points in the first quarter, he adjusted to Detroit's adjustments when it came to defending him — a unique trait that makes him one of the best players in the NBA.
"I think it was just a really good growing moment for Lauri as a primary option to see how a game unfolds over 48 minutes when you get it going early," head coach Will Hardy said. "He had 16 in the first quarter. … So for the rest of the game, the other team is going to have a heightened awareness of you. It's easy to give in to whatever adjustment they make, and I thought he just continued to push and find moments where he could get shots off.”
Also making the night special was that the NBA All-Star voting opened up that morning, and Markkanen proved that he deserved to stay in Salt Lake City for the February showcase.
"When other teams play the Utah Jazz, they know they have to game plan for Lauri Markkanen. … I don't think that there's a whole lot that I need to say that his play hasn't said already," Hardy added.
While Markkanen has been outstanding all season long, Vanderbilt has been just as dominant — albeit in different ways.
He's been incredible defensively, constantly hounding the opposing team's best player and just being an absolute menace in the passing lanes and rebounding. He's also improved drastically on the offensive end, becoming a reliable corner three-point shooter and elevating his playmaking skills.
Over his past seven games, Vanderbilt has been averaging 9.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 4.0 assists — all above his season averages.
While the offense isn't a problem of late, the Jazz will need to clean things up defensively after the Wizards found massive success in their first meeting over a month ago. Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma were nearly unstoppable, while Monte Morris thrived as a playmaker.
Utah believes it has grown on that end of the court since the first showdown — especially against Detroit — and Thursday will be a chance to prove it.
“The team made a great adjustment by telling me not to do any more zone in the second half,” Hardy said Tuesday. “They committed to playing man-to-man defense at a very high level, and I think that was a big part of the reason why we were able to win the game. … I think that’s great for them to take ownership of what they’re most comfortable in.”
Utah (18-16, 11-5 home / No. 8 Western Conference)
*116.9 Points Per Game (No. 4 in NBA)
*115.6 Offensive Rating (No. 4 in NBA)
*116.0 Points Per Game (No. 24 in NBA)
*114.4 Defensive Rating (No. 26 in NBA)
*Lauri Markkanen: 22.8 points | 8.2 rebounds | 2.1 assists | 44.0% 3P-shooting
*Jordan Clarkson: 20.1 points | 4.5 assists | 3.8 rebounds | 35.0% 3P-shooting
*Malik Beasley: 14.1 points | 3.7 rebounds | 38.7% 3P-shooting
*Collin Sexton: 14.3 points | 3.0 assists | 2.4 rebounds | 36.2% 3P-shooting
Washington (12-20, 4-13 away / No. 12 Eastern Conference)
*110.7 Points Per Game (No. 24 in NBA)
*110.7 Offensive Rating (No. 22 in NBA)
*113.6 Points Per Game (No. 16 in NBA)
*113.6 Defensive Rating (No. 21 in NBA)
*Bradley Beal: 23.4 points | 5.3 assists | 3.8 rebounds | 33.3% 3P-shooting
*Kristaps Porzingis: 22.4 points | 8.9 rebounds | 1.5 blocks | 33.1% 3P-shooting
*Kyle Kuzma: 21.5 points | 4.0 rebounds
*Alec Burks: 13.8 points | 7.6 rebounds | 3.5 assists | 34.5% 3P-shooting
*Lauri Markkanen vs. Kristaps Porzingis
— Arguably the two most athletic 7-footers in the NBA, the Markkanen-Porzingis battle should take center court on NBATV. Markkanen struggled in the opening matchup, one of the worst games he’s had all season — but he’s responded with an All-Star performance the rest of the way. Porzingis had one of his best games of the year, being unstoppable at all three levels the last time these two teams met.
QUESTIONABLE | Collin Sexton (right hamstring strain)
OUT | Kelly Olynyk (left ankle sprain)
OUT | Johnny Juzang (G League - Two-Way)
QUESTIONABLE | Kristaps Porzingis (non-COVID illness)
OUT | Vernon Carey Jr (G League - On-Assignment)
OUT | Isaiah Todd (G League - On-Assignment)
OUT | Delon Wright (right hamstring strain)
Time: 7:00 p.m. MST
Location: Vivint Arena |Salt Lake City, UT
TV: AT&T SportsNet | NBATV
Radio: The Zone Sports Network