The Utah Jazz and Orlando Magic head into their Friday night showdown in Salt Lake City on the heels of wins thanks to a couple of impressive grand finale performances.
Without the fourth-quarter efforts of Utah’s Jordan Clarkson and Orlando’s Franz Wagner, their teams might not have enjoyed victories against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Portland Trail Blazers, respectively, earlier this week.
Clarkson fired in nine of his team-high 32 points during a wild 43-second stretch in the final minute and a half of Utah’s 116-114 come-from-behind win.
The first four points came via a 3-pointer and ensuing free throw at 1:23, chipping into the Cavs’ five-point lead. Utah retained possession after Caris LeVert was called for a flagrant foul 1, and Clarkson then nailed three straight foul shots after LeVert fouled him again in the act of shooting beyond the arc.
A moment later, Clarkson hit a floater to put Utah up 111-107 in a nine-point whirlwind turnaround.
“I was just being aggressive in those moments,” Clarkson said. “Throughout the game, I saw what they were doing defensively and just started being aggressive in the fourth.”
Donovan Mitchell figured Clarkson was in for a night earlier in the game when his former teammate scored on three consecutive possessions while Utah took a 13-point lead.
“He had that look in his eye,” Mitchell said, “and I was just like, ‘Damn, it’s going to be one of those back-and-forth nights.’ “
Clarkson’s big ending spoiled Mitchell’s first game back in Utah since he was traded to Cleveland in September. Mitchell scored 46 points and put the Cavs in position to win before the final minute-plus.
Lauri Markkanen, who also part of the blockbuster Mitchell trade, scored 25 points and matched his season best with 16 rebounds against his old team. And the Jazz got 13 points from Malik Beasley, Mike Conley and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
Along with getting bragging rights over Mitchell, who received an overwhelmingly positive reception by the Jazz organization and fans, the outcome put Utah in the win column again. They had lost seven of their previous eight outings.
“I thought our guys just really dug in, stayed the course and stayed focused on the little things,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said.
Meanwhile in Portland, Wagner scored 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter of a nice 109-106 win over the Trail Blazers.
“I think that’s why you play basketball, those important plays, those important moments,” Wagner said.
Wendell Carter Jr. contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds to help the Magic improve to 2-1 on their five-game Western Conference road trip.
Though they’re only 6-14 on the road this season, two of those victories have come on this road trip for Orlando, including an impressive 115-101 win at Golden State on Saturday.
This will be Utah’s first game against 2022 No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero. The 6-foot-10 athlete, who was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for December, averages 21.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists.
“He was the No. 1 pick for a reason,” Orlando guard Cole Anthony told ESPN’s andscape.com. “He proves it every night on the floor. He plays hard, plays the right way. Super skilled. Good dude in the locker room. I’ve taken him under my wing since he got here. He’s special and I’m glad he’s a teammate of mine.”
Magic guard Jalen Suggs (ankle) is questionable. Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk (ankle) will miss his second straight game while Utah guard Collin Sexton (hamstring) is questionable after missing the past five games.
–Field Level Media