SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – The Utah Jazz are showing the NBA world that no matter how many times you count them out, they seem to always fight back.
After giving up a 25-point lead to the Sacramento Kings last night, the entire team rallied to Jazz to a 128-120 victory with eight players scoring in double figures.
“Another great team win,” said head coach Will Hardy, whose team has now won four of its last five. “Our team maintained composure. 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.”
Without All-Star Lauri Markkanen, who was out with a back injury, and without Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton again, it was rookie Ochai Agbaji stepping up with a career-high 27 points.
“We’re continuing to see his game start to expand a little bit,” Hardy said. “The shots that he’s looking for and the shots that he’s taking.”
“Just bringing that activity,” Agbaji said. “Offensively and defensively, my teammates kept my confidence throughout it all, and I’m thankful for that.”
Another one of the three Jazz rookies that started last night’s game was center Walker Kessler, who has now come up with two huge blocks in the final minute to seal the last two victories over the Kings and Celtics.
“A lot of it is effort,” Kessler said. “A lot of it is obviously height and physical attributes, but I just don’t like to lose.”
And what can you say about Kris Dunn, who was signed to a multi-year deal after spending most of the season in the G-League. Dunn had 18 points and a career-high 10 assists against Sacramento.
“I like that Kris has a swagger about him,” Hardy said. “We’ve discussed the fact that early on when he got here, he would look at me and flex every time that he scored, which I thought was actually hilarious.”
“That’s just part of my swag that I was talking about,” Dunn said. “I’ll be flexing at coach sometimes. Just to let him know that I’m here right now. Don’t worry, you’re safe with me, coach.”
Even Udoka Azubuike, who has appeared briefly in just 27 games this season, had a career high 13 points.
“For me, I’ve just got to stay ready and prepared,” Azubuike said. “I just keep in my mind that when I get called up, I can go ahead and do my job.”
With all the trades at the deadline, the thinking was this team was going to tank and get a better draft pick. But the Jazz are still right in the thick of the playoff race in the 10th seed at 35-36.
In fact, since trading Mike Conley, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt, the Jazz have not tanked. They’re 8-7.
“It’s not easy to go into a season when everyone is telling you that you’re not very good,” Hardy said. “The way that they fight everyday, the way that they are committed to try and help win. They way that they’ve all sacrificed for the group, I love this team. I hope you guys do too.”
The Jazz will next host Portland Wednesday night at Vivint Arena.