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“A Tale Of Two Halves” | Utah Falls In Preseason Opener

The Will Hardy era is off and running.

Despite a very solid showing in the first half, Utah’s inexperience with each other played a factor against the cohesive Raptors as the Jazz fell 114-82 on Sunday evening in Edmonton, Alberta.

“I think there was some good to take away,” Hardy said postgame. “Obviously, there’s some stuff that we have to get a lot better at. To me, it was a tale of two halves.”

With 14 new players on the roster — 10 of whom saw action — Lauri Markkanen stood out the most.

After an incredible showing at EuroBasket this past summer, Markkanen continued to show how much his game has progressed after dropping a game-high 20 points in 24 minutes. He added five rebounds and two steals, shooting 7-of-12 from the floor.

Another bright spot for the Jazz was the play of guard Collin Sexton, one of the key components of the Donovan Mitchell trade a month ago.

In his debut, he put up 11 points off the bench — including a 3-for-4 performance from beyond the arc. One of the most talented scorers in the league, Sunday’s time on the court was Sexton’s first action since last November when he suffered a knee injury and missed the remainder of the 2021-22 season.

While growing pains are expected under Hardy — especially considering how many new players the Jazz are trying to incorporate — it was clear that Utah will do precisely what Hardy wants them to do.

“I want a team that competes. … I want a team that cares about winning,” Hardy said earlier this week. “I understand that there are individual aspects to playing at this level, but I want people who are solely focused on winning basketball games for the Utah Jazz. … We will be tough, we will play with passion, we will be a team.”

Despite the final score, the Jazz battled all game long — particularly in the first 24 minutes when they went into the half trailing 50-49. Their physical style of play was evident as they forced 10 first-half turnovers, 23 in total.

“We didn’t make many shots but executed well, guarded well in the half court,” Hardy said. “Second half, we got a little bit disorganized and our communication wasn’t very good.”

Rookie Walker Kessler added 11 points, while Jordan Clarkson chipped in 7 points, 5 assists, and 3 rebounds.

The Jazz continue their preseason road trip to Portland to face Damian Lillard and the Blazers on Tuesday night. Tipoff is set for 8 pm MST.

“This is a new group that’s learning each other,” Hardy said. “There’s adversity in any NBA game, and tonight we didn’t deal with that adversity in the beginning of the second half very well.”

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