"We Play Together" | Utah To Be Extremely Shorthanded When Hosting Milwaukee On Friday Night

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

It feels like the Jazz have had to play with their backs against the wall all season long. 

Very few people outside of Utah's locker room believed this team would be any good this year. They assumed that with a rookie head coach leading a team with 10 new players — most of them past their prime or not close to reaching it — they had no real chance to compete in what was expected to be a really competitive Western Conference. 

The media got one thing right — the West is competitive. They just didn't realize how competitive the Jazz were going to be. 

"I love this team," head coach Will Hardy said following Monday night's victory over Sacramento. "It's not easy to go into a season where everybody's telling you that you're not very good. They like how scrappy and tough (they are). … They like that they never go away in a game. They haven't backed off one bit, they haven't given in ever. … I'm proud of the guys and how they have carried themselves the whole year."

Part of what's made the Jazz so special this season is that they're taken on the identity of a team that will play for a full 48 minutes. Regardless of who's on the court, Utah will play hard, which has given multiple players the opportunity to step up.

"The thing I continue to be most proud of with this team is that every night it just seems like different people continue to step up and continue to use the opportunities that are given to them," Hardy said. 

"We just play hard," Kelly Olynyk added. "We play together, everyone that's here has bought in, and it's been fun going out there and competing together. Will (Hardy) has obviously done a great job of putting in spots to compete and be successful, and guys are playing to their strengths. … It's been fun to do, and hopefully, we can keep it going."

Utah will need a variety of players to step up when they face the Milwaukee Bucks, the team with the league's best record, on Friday night. 

While Collin Sexton and Jordan Clarkson have been out all or most of the time since the All-Star break, Lauri Markkanen has helped carry this team by playing at an All-NBA level. However, he will miss Friday's showdown — and maybe more — while dealing with a left-hand contusion suffered a while ago but reaggravated following a physical game against Portland on Wednesday.

"It's been just getting hit for a month," he said. "So just seeing what you can play through, and even though my wrists hurt I can do other things. Once you get going, you don't really think about it, but then, obviously, dead balls and stuff. It happened again, but, I mean, we'll see."

Utah (35-37, 22-14 home / No. 12 Western Conference)
*117.4 Points Per Game (No. 6 in NBA)
*116.0 Offensive Rating (No. 6 in NBA)
*117.4 Points Per Game (No. 23 in NBA)
*115.9 Defensive Rating (No. 24 in NBA)
*Kelly Olynyk: 12.1 points | 5.8 rebounds | 3.4 assists | 39.2% 3P-shooting
*Kris Dunn: 12.0 points | 5.2 assists | 4.4 rebounds | 43.5% 3P-shooting
*Walker Kessler (Last 10 Games): 11.6 points | 10.9 rebounds | 3.2 blocks
*Ochai Agbaji (Last 10 Games): 12.5 points | 2.4 rebounds | 37.1% 3P-shooting

Milwaukee (52-20, 22-13 away / No. 1 Eastern Conference)

*116.4 Points Per Game (No. 9 in NBA)
*113.9 Offensive Rating (No. 17 in NBA)
*112.1 Points Per Game (No. 5 in NBA)
*109.7 Defensive Rating (No. 1 in NBA)
*Giannis Antetokounmpo: 31.2 points | 11.9 rebounds | 5.5 assists
*Jrue Holiday: 19.0 points | 7.3 assists | 5.0 rebounds | 37.5% 3P-shooting
*Brook Lopez: 15.6 points | 6.6 rebounds | 2.5 blocks | 37.7% 3P-shooting
*Bobby Portis: 13.9 points | 9.6 rebounds | 34.8% 3P-shooting

*Walker Kessler vs. Brook Lopez
— Two of the best rim protectors in the league go head-to-head on Friday night when rookie Walker Kessler faces Defensive Player of the Year candidate Brook Lopez. Both teams run defensive schemes that allow the big men to thrive in their roles, which is a big part of why they’ve been able to find success this season. 

AVAILABLE | Micah Potter (G League - Two-Way)
QUESTIONABLE | Johnny Juzang (left hip flexor strain)
OUT | Jordan Clarkson (left hand - fourth finger sprain)
OUT | Rudy Gay (low back soreness)
OUT | Lauri Markkanen (left hand contusion)
OUT | Collin Sexton (left hamstring strain)

OUT | Khris Middleton (right knee injury management) 
OUT | Jae Crowder (left calf soreness)
OUT | Goran Dragic (left knee soreness)
OUT | Meyers Leonard (left calf soreness)

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