"We Can Play" | Clarkson And Kessler Could Return As Utah Looks To Snap Losing Streak When Facing Orlando

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

It’s safe to say the road trip hasn’t started the way the Jazz have wanted — but it hasn’t been for lack of effort. 

As anyone in the NBA knows, it’s already difficult to win in the NBA, let alone on the road. But life in the league is much more difficult when you’re down two of your top three scorers and facing teams looking to make a postseason push. 

However, the Utah Jazz refuse to make excuses despite the odds against them. 

“Obviously, no moral victories in the NBA, but I’m proud of the guys and the way we fought,” All-Star Lauri Markkanen said following Tuesday’s loss to Dallas. “We want to win. … The guys fought hard, and we showed that we can play.”

“Nobody here wants to lose, so it sucks,” Rudy Gay added. “It’s a learning game. … We’ve had a lot of guys out with injuries, so others have had to step up and learn on the fly. For us to be a good team, everyone has to be on the same page. … So we’re learning, but we’ll be alright.”

Instead of rolling over throughout this challenging stretch, the Jazz have embraced the underdog role — emerging as a feisty contender who will never give up. Despite having to play many unorthodox lineups over the past two weeks, head coach Will Hardy was really proud of the effort he saw following Tuesday’s defeat. 

“Overall, I thought our guys really competed,” he said. “Everyone who went in the game maximized what they could on the floor and contributed to what they could on both ends. I thought our team deserved to win — nothing against Dallas at all — they way we competed, I was very proud of the way our guys battled tonight.”

But as Markkanen said, there are no moral victories in the league — and that’s something they all know. Just because they played hard and had a chance to pull out a win in the end, it doesn’t lessen the sting of their fourth-straight loss at the most inopportune time. 

“This one hurts for sure. … Our guys in the locker room laid it all on the line, and they’re hurting too,” Hardy said. 

After hanging around the play-in tournament for the past month, the Jazz have fallen to 13th in the West — yet they remain one game out of ninth and 2.5 games out of fifth in the insanely competitive Western Conference. 

Despite the recent four-game losing streak, Utah will have a chance to return to its winning ways and climb back up the standings when they face Orlando on Thursday night. Tipoff is set for 5 p.m. MT.

The other good news for the Jazz is that Walker Kessler and Jordan Clarkson are both listed as QUESTIONABLE on the injury report after missing Tuesday’s game — Collin Sexton is still out but making good progress in his recovery from a hamstring injury. 

Getting Clarkson and Kessler back would be a huge boost, especially to pair with Markkanen, who continued to thrive in his breakout season after dropping 33 points against Dallas and looked like the best player on the court for the majority of the game. 

Utah (31-35, 11-22 away / No. 13 Western Conference)
*117.0 Points Per Game (No. 6 in NBA)
*115.6 Offensive Rating (No. 8 in NBA)
*117.2 Points Per Game (No. 22 in NBA)
*115.6 Defensive Rating (No. 24 in NBA)
*Lauri Markkanen: 25.3 points | 8.5 rebounds | 1.8 assists | 40.9% 3P-shooting
*Jordan Clarkson: 20.8 points | 4.4 assists | 4.0 rebounds | 33.8% 3P-shooting
*Kris Dunn: 12.7 points | 4.3 assists | 4.2 rebounds | 43.8% 3P-shooting
*Kelly Olynyk: 12.1 points | 5.6 rebounds | 3.2 assists | 39.7% 3P-shooting

Orlando (27-39, 15-18 home / No. 13 Eastern Conference)

*111.2 Points Per Game (No. 28 in NBA)
*111.4 Offensive Rating (No. 25 in NBA)
*114.0 Points Per Game (No. 17 in NBA)
*114.0 Defensive Rating (No. 19 in NBA)
*Paolo Banchero: 20.0 points | 6.6 rebounds | 3.6 assists
*Franz Wagner: 18.8 points | 9.9 rebounds | 3.5 assists | 37.0% 3P-shooting
*Wendell Carter Jr.: 15.0 points | 8.8 rebounds | 2.5 assists | 34.4% 3P-shooting
*Markelle Fultz: 13.4 points | 5.5 assists | 4.0 rebounds | 1.5 steals

*Walker Kessler vs. Paolo Banchero
— Although neither player is expected to defend one another for the majority of the game, the way Kessler and Banchero affect the game for their respective teams is something to behold — and a strong reason why they’re both the reigning rookies of the month. Kessler is arguably the defensive player of his class while Banchero is the best offensive player — nothing wrong with enjoying the future of basketball.

QUESTIONABLE | Jordan Clarkson (left hand - fourth finger sprain)
QUESTIONABLE | Walker Kessler (non-Covid illness)
OUT | Micah Potter (G League - Two-Way)
OUT | Collin Sexton (left hamstring strain)
PROBABLE | Admiral Schofield (concussion)
OUT | Wendell Carter Jr. (left hip pain)
OUT | Kevon Harris (G League - Two Way)
OUT | Jonathan Isaac (Left Adductor; Torn/surgery)

 5:00 p.m. MT
Location: Amway Center |Orlando, FL
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: The Zone Sports Network