"You're Allowed To Enjoy It" | Utah Looks To Keep 'Having Fun' When Hosting Portland On Wednesday

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

Just minutes into his introductory press conference after being named Utah's head coach in June, Will Hardy talked about three traits he wants to identify the Jazz.

"Toughness, sacrifice, and passion are the three things that are most important to me," he said. "I want our group to be deeply competitive and able to deal with adversity. I would like for everybody to recognize that this is bigger than them individually."

Now 71 games into his rookie season, there's one more identifying factor that Hardy might want to add: fun. 

"If they were 16 years old, their dream was to make it to the NBA. … Right now, they're in the middle of a dream, and you're allowed to enjoy it," he said. "This should be the best time in your life. There's a day where it's all over, you'll look back and it's all just memories at that point."

"We try our best to remind the players that you can be competitive, you can be professional, you can care about winning, you care about all the right stuff, and you can enjoy it. … You can be a 23-year-old professional basketball player in the middle of your dream."

While believing life in the league should be fun, Hardy fully understands it's a results-based career. That means that the pressure is always mounting, there's always something to play for.

"Everybody's trying to succeed, trying to win, trying to make a name for themselves," Hardy said. "In some ways, guys are trying to solidify themselves in the league, getting contracts and things like that. I think there's a lot of pressure from fans, media, there's high expectations. … It's a highly scrutinized business, and I think we understand that."

But just because the Jazz take their job seriously, always striving for perfection while still feeling the pain of defeat, it doesn't mean they can't enjoy the journey. It's why Hardy has music blaring throughout practices and meetings, he's always cracking little jokes, and he's constantly seen with a smile on his face. 

"It's like if you're laughing and smiling, then you're being goofy, and you don't care about winning," he said. "I just don't think that those two things are mutually exclusive. … I think you can do both."

The joy that Hardy preaches and practices have never been more apparent than following Utah's last two victories over Boston and Sacramento. The Jazz entered shorthanded in both games and, through grit and determination, were able to win in the closing minutes. 

"I love this team," Hardy said Monday night. "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."

Utah will look to keep the good vibes going when they host Portland on Wednesday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. MT.

Utah (35-36, 22-13 home / No. 10 Western Conference)
*117.4 Points Per Game (No. 6 in NBA)
*116.1 Offensive Rating (No. 6 in NBA)
*117.3 Points Per Game (No. 22 in NBA)
*115.8 Defensive Rating (No. 24 in NBA)
*Lauri Markkanen: 25.4 points | 8.6 rebounds | 1.8 assists | 40.2% 3P-shooting
*Kelly Olynyk: 12.1 points | 5.7 rebounds | 3.4 assists | 40.1% 3P-shooting
*Kris Dunn: 11.7 points | 5.4 assists | 4.3 rebounds | 45.5% 3P-shooting

Portland (31-40, 14-22 away / No. 13 Western Conference)

*114.2 Points Per Game (No. 15 in NBA)
*115.4 Offensive Rating (No. 9 in NBA)
*116.1 Points Per Game (No. 18 in NBA)
*117.3 Defensive Rating (No. 27 in NBA)
*Damian Lillard: 32.2 points | 7.2 assists | 4.7 rebounds | 37.3% 3P-shooting
*Jusuf Nurkic: 13.2 points | 9.2 rebounds | 2.8 assists | 36.0% 3P-shooting
*Cam Reddish: 11.8 points | 3.1 rebounds | 2.2 assists | 34.2% 3P-shooting

*Talen Horton-Tucker vs. Damian Lillard
— Ever since taking over the starting point guard spot for the Jazz, Horton-Tucker has been sensational. He’s averaging 17 points, 5.9 assists, and 5.1 rebounds per game in March, proof just how far he’s come after adjusting to the role this season. Meanwhile, Lillard is playing the best basketball of his career, averaging 34.8 points since the All-Star break. 

PORTLAND, OR - JANUARY 25: Talen Horton-Tucker #0 of the Utah Jazz drives to the basket during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers on January 25, 2023 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

QUESTIONABLE | Lauri Markkanen (back soreness)
OUT | Jordan Clarkson (left hand - fourth finger sprain)
OUT | Micah Potter (G League - Two-Way)
OUT | Collin Sexton (left hamstring strain)
QUESTIONABLE | Nassir Little (Concussion Evaluation)
OUT | Ibou Badji (Left Knee Surgery Recovery)
OUT | Jerami Grant (Left Quad Contusion)
OUT | Anfernee Simons (Right Foot Soreness)
OUT | Justise Winslow (Left Ankle Sprain)

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