When: 9:00 pm EST
Where: Vivint Arena; Salt Lake City, Utah
How to watch: Bally Sports Southeast, NBATV
The Charlotte Hornets have built a little two-game winning streak on their current road trip by beating both the Houston Rockets and the Atlanta Hawks. Next up is the Utah Jazz in beautiful Salt Lake City.
Utah Jazz overview
The Jazz shocked the NBA world when they started the season 10-3 on the heels of trading away Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Bojan Bogdanovic. But they’ve fallen back down to earth since then and now sport a losing record at 24-25 and have lost nine of their last 14.
Utah’s starting five isn’t one that, on paper, strikes fear into the hearts of their opponents. Point guard Mike Conley is steady and smart, but his best days are behind him. Shooting guard Jordan Clarkson has moved out of his traditional sixth man role and into the starting lineup and is having a career year with 21.2 points per game. Small forward Malik Beasley is serviceable. Power forward Lauri Markkanen is shockingly playing like an All-Star with averages of 24.8 points and 8.7 rebounds while shooting 52% from the field and 43% from the 3-point line. If you’ve never heard of rookie center Walker Kessler, you’re not alone.
The Jazz bench is actually pretty solid. Guard Collin Sexton has been a starter most of his career. Wings Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Taylon Horton-Tucker are both relatively young and relatively productive. Power forward Jarred Vanderbilt is a defensive menace.
How the Hornets can win
The Jazz are a team of two extremes. On the offensive side, they rank fourth in the league in offensive rating, so this is a team that can score. But at the same time, Utah ranks just 26th in defensive rating, so this is a team that can also give up a lot of points.
The key to this game will likely be LaMelo Ball’s health. At the time of this publishing he was still listed as day-to-day. LaMelo’s speed could give the Jazz fits, so if he’s able to go in this one I’ll be bold enough to predict a third straight Hornets victory.
And let’s not forget the possibility of a Gordon Hayward revenge game against his former team and the fanbase whose hearts he broke when he departed from Salt Lake City in 2017. For Jazz fans (and I know many of them), that’s a wound that still hasn’t fully healed. Yes, after Hayward bolted from the Beehive state, Jazz fans moved on Donovan Mitchell and he helped remove the sting of Hayward’s betrayal. But after Jazz fans watched Gordon Hayward start as a skinny, unassuming rookie and blossom into an All-Star, they felt he was “theirs”. They envisioned him having a John Stockton or Karl Malone legacy in Utah, but he left. We’ll see how they receive Gordon tonight, and how Hayward responds.