SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – With the NBA All-Star Game returning to Utah for the first time in 30 years, Lauri Markkanen is making his case to be a part of the festivities.
Markkanen scored a career-high 49 points, making 15 of 27 shots, as the Jazz ended a five-game losing skid with a 131-114 win over the Houston Rockets.
The 49 points is the most scored by a Jazz player in a regular season game since Karl Malone scored 56 in April, 1998. Donovan Mitchell topped the 50-point mark twice in the 2020 NBA Playoffs.
Markkanen got out to a quick start with 18 points in the first quarter to help the Jazz to an early lead. Houston took the lead late in the third quarter, but Utah ended that quarter on a 10-0 run to go on top for good.
“The coaching staff is doing a great job of putting me in situations to succeed,” Markkanen said. “My teammates are delivering me the ball and are having trust in me. So it feels good. Just like I have confidence in those guys, they believe in me.”
“Lauri has done such a good job of continuing to work on different ways he can impact the game offensively,” head coach Will Hardy said. “Obviously he’s shown the ability to shoot the ball, but I think the physicality that he’s played with has given him an opportunity to score in a variety of ways.”
Markkanen made all 13 of his free throw attempts, and is now the first player in NBA history to make at least 12 free throws in three straight games without a miss.
An 8-2 run cut Utah’s lead to five with about 5 minutes left. Jordan Clarkson hit a 3-pointer soon after that before a tip shot by Markkanen extended the lead to 117-107.
Jalen Green added a basket for Houston before Markkanen scored the next four points to start a 14-0 run by the Jazz that made it 131-109 and sent fans streaming for the exits.
After scoring the first four points of the run, Markkanen added consecutive 3-pointers at the end of it. Players on the Utah bench stood and cheered as he hit both of them and they were disappointed when a last 3-point attempt that would have given him 50 points was off the mark.
“Jordan said: ‘Just go for 50,’” Markkanen said. “And I know they were double-teaming me at the end, but I had to go for it. I’m not really too worried I didn’t get it, but it’s great to see my teammates excited, like I’m excited for them.”
Green had 30 points and Kevin Porter Jr. added 23 for the Rockets, who dropped their sixth in a row.
Markkanen’s highest-scoring game entering Thursday was 38, which he had achieved twice, most recently on Dec. 20 against Detroit. He made six 3-pointers and all 13 of his free throws Thursday night to eclipse his previous best games.
Utah had a 12-point lead early in the fourth quarter after a 3-pointer by Ochai Agbaji. Green got going for Houston after that, scoring six of the points in an 8-2 run that cut the lead to 105-99 with about 8 minutes to go. Green capped that stretch with a one-handed dunk.
Utah scored the next five points, with another three from Agbaji, to make it 110-99 less than a minute later.
The Rockets used an 11-4 run, with 3s from Green and Jabari Smith Jr., to cut the lead to 70-67 with about nine minutes left in the third quarter. But the Jazz made the next eight points with five from Markkanen and with the help of a turnover by the Rockets to push it to 78-67 a couple of minutes later.
Houston scored the next eight points, with the last five from Alperen Sengun, to get within 3 again with about six minutes left in the third.
The Jazz were up by 7 soon after that after a jump shot by Clarkson before a 11-3 spurt by the Rockets made it 86-85, giving them their first lead of the second half. Porter and Jae’Sean Tate made consecutive 3s to cap that run and put Houston on top.
The Rockets weren’t on top for long as Utah scored the last 10 points of the quarter, with 3-pointers from Malik Beasley and Mike Conley, to take a 95-86 lead into the fourth quarter.
Beasley and Clarkson each finished with 19 points. Conley had nine points and 11 assists.
The Jazz (20-21) next play at Chicago Saturday night.