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Utah Jazz: How NBA’s surprise package are finding their groove with three-pronged plan of attack

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The biggest surprise package in the first weeks of the new NBA season is undoubtedly the Utah Jazz.

Everyone thought they were in rebuild mode and it would have been hard to find a basketball fan or analyst who picked them to finish above .500 a year.

Despite this, they have made it through the first 11 games with an 8-3 record, are unbeaten at home and have just racked up a rare streak of wins on a road trip to Los Angeles.

The Jazz rallied after leading 10 points in the first half and trailing in the third and fourth quarters to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 110-102 on Sunday night after a 130-116 win over the Lakers on Sunday night. Friday.

Their overall record isn’t the result of an easy run of games — they’ve had the 11th hardest schedule so far, but have found a formula that works night in and night for them under rookie head coach Will Hardy — even when understaffed. Jarred Vanderbilt sat with right adductor pain against the Clippers, but while they missed his presence on the offensive glass, the rest of the team increased their intensity to make up for his absence. A very good sign for a young ball club.

Utah Jazz head coach Will Hardy gesturing during the second half of the clash against the Los Angeles Clippers

“I thought our team answered the bell,” Hardy said. “You know, as a coach you never liked having one of your key players gone. It’s something that everyone in the NBA goes through, but everyone stepped up and everyone improved their physique and we were still able to to create some revenue.

“I think it’s great that our team just keeps going and they don’t care who’s there as long as we win. [I’m] just proud of the group and the way they stick together.

“Finding ways to win is fun. I’m very proud of the team, to overcome 20 turnovers and find a way to win through defense and win on the road in the NBA is hard. So it was a great, great trip.”

Jordan Clarkson scored 23 points and Collin Sexton added 22 from the bench, while Lauri Markkanen finished with 18 points and nine rebounds to continue his excellent recent form. The Finn did not miss a shot in the first half. He hit all four of his field goals and made his only three-point attempt in addition to all five free throws for 14 points.

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Highlights of the Utah Jazz vs. the Los Angeles Clippers in Week 3 of the NBA Season

The Clippers, on the other hand, missed all 11 of their three-point attempts in the fourth. George missed several shots on the stretch as the Jazz pulled away after clearing a four-point deficit, much of it thanks to Markkanen’s strong defence.

“Lauri did a really good job of making Paul George work hard and not just to get shots but also to get the ball,” said Hardy. “not all 11” [three-pointers] were perfectly guarded. There were only a few that were missed.

“Overall they did a good job of putting pressure on the ball and guarding it so that the Clippers had to work to get their three balls off. I was just really proud of the way they competed in defense and I thought that it started with Lauri on Paul George.”

The Jazz scored nine in a row, capped by Malik Beasley’s three-pointer, to take the lead for good with five and a half minutes left. It was part of a 14-2 run that extended Utah’s lead to 106-98. Sexton had seven points in the sprint.

“I’m starting to feel more and more comfortable,” Sexton said. “Just be ready and be there for the entire game.”

To cut

The fact that the former Cleveland Cavaliers guard went from the ball to the basket was particularly impressive and he admits that this is something he is increasingly encouraged to do.

“I’ve cut the balls off playing with Kevin Love and also Ricky Rubio whenever I could, and they’ve always kind of found me,” Sexton said. “So, in the back of my mind, when someone draws so much attention, [is] to make sure I cut and also not only for myself, but also for my teammates.

“There were a few times tonight when I cut it and someone got an open three, so [it’s] just keep coach tell me if you intervene, cut, do something so you can’t [only] give yourself a chance, but someone else, and that’s pretty much I’m just being selfless.”

Hardy praised Sexton, the number 8 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, for his instruction early in his Utah Jazz career.

“We work on it a lot. Practice, shootarounds, film — we think cutting is a really important part of our attack,” Hardy said. “Collin recognizes the timing much better when he has to get between the defenders, especially when they turn on the weak side. I thought about the whole trajectory, he just did a really good job.”

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Hardy talks to Jazz guard Collin Sexton during a clash against the Denver Nuggets

“He’s so powerful, so athletic when he goes to the basket. He can collect himself really fast, like he can go from catching the ball to the air on the rim very quickly, which helps him a ton. Collin going to keep working on it because like a lot of the guys on our team, we’re going to keep putting Collin on and off the ball in different places.”


Another aspect of Utah Jazz’s offensive plan is the offensive spacing, which allows the team to play the ball across the floor looking for the best look.

After the team’s win over the Lakers on Friday, locker room veteran Mike Conley called it one of the key factors in their early season success.

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Highlights of the Utah Jazz vs. the Los Angeles Lakers in Week 3 of the NBA Season

“I think the distance is the biggest difference for us,” said Conley, now in his 16th year in the competition. “We are now able to drive to the edge and see their contested layup from behind with your man and no help from the weak side, or there is help from the weak side and you throw it to the corner and you have a wide open three.

“Now we’re so selfless, the ball just moves and pings and any of the five guys can knock you off the dribble and play, so anytime that allows us to get going, get a good rhythm for the game and you get a lot of guys who can score buckets if you do that.”

A few nights later, they applied the same tactic in the same arena against the Clippers.

Markkanen passes as Los Angeles Clippers guard Terance Mann defends

“We talked about that,” said Markkanen. “We got the bonus and then we got Collin cut and everybody cuts and still tries to get that good distance, to get a couple of threes of it. If they mess up the coverage and stuff, but we just tried to get to the edge come and go to the free-throw line.”

“All the way through, executive in half court, it was all about getting our distance right,” Hardy said. “We liked Mike on that blank side and Collin was in the slash spot on the weak side. [He] show us he has really good instincts as a cutter, he’s such a powerful player who goes to the edge, so I thought he did very, very well playing on the weak side.”

The Clippers pulled within four on a dunk and inside basket by Ivica Zubac before Sexton dunk with 54 seconds left.

Sexton then fed Markkanen for an inside basket in the closing seconds to help take the win.


Sexton celebrates after scoring against the Los Angeles Clippers

The final element of Jazz’s blueprint for the start of the season is the versatility with which the team plays on both sides.

The idea of ​​Markkanen playing lockdown defense will seem unfathomable to fans of the Chicago Bulls, where he was drafted and specialized as a slender shooter.

They also have a squad full of players who are given the freedom to use their offensive gifts and who work hard, as Sexton said, by putting in the effort off the ball to make sure their teammates get good shots.

“A lot of it has to do with our versatility,” Conley said. “With Lauri and in Kelly (Olynyk) and Jarred (Vanderbilt), those guys, it’s not just our guards driving and kicking. It’s Lauri playing extra; it’s Vando, being legit everywhere, setting screens, rolling.

“It’s a number of ways that we can crack the paint a little bit – and we’re not just doing it through ISO dribbling or something like that. So it really puts defenses in question whether they should shift or not shift or assist and that puts us able to be who we are.”

Who they are is a team that plays without fear and while many think their form will wane, the Jazzs are confident about the talent and character they have on their team.

“I don’t care if they doubt us,” Markkanen said. “It feeds us and we know what we have in this dressing room. We have great players and I think it’s mostly [that fact] we play together, we play as a team.

“Of course there will be nights when you’re not at your best and I think if we play our style of basketball and play quick and knock-down shots, I think we can beat anyone. We just have to keep working to get even better.” Don’t just have these first 10 games or whatever.”

They now have a chance to take nine wins from the first dozen games when they host the Lakers on Monday to close out a back-to-back. Utah is 4-0 at home and will likely expect to beat a Lakers team struggling to establish an identity, something they already seem indelibly done, even at this early stage of a new season.

Watch more NBA live later this week as Atlanta Hawks host Philadelphia 76ers Thursday from 12:30 p.m.; 76ers then host Hawks on Saturday night from 12:30 p.m.; Minnesota Timberwolves travel to the Cleveland Cavaliers in our Sunday game from 11pm, all three live on Sky Sports Arena.


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