Progress report week as Jazz, Pelicans renew acquaintances

In October, the Utah Jazz handed the New Orleans Pelicans their first loss of the season after holding on tight to earn a 122-121 overtime road victory.

It was a solid early win for the streaking Jazz, who were undefeated at the time and worked their way to the top of the Western Conference standings a few weeks later.

When the Jazz and Pelicans play again Tuesday night at Salt Lake City, it is New Orleans that is coming in hot after consecutive victories over the Phoenix Suns extended their winning streak to a season-best seven games.

Zion Williamson is particularly hot at the moment. He scored 35 points in each of the victories over the Suns, while shooting a combined 27 of 38 (71.1 percent) with an average of 7.5 rebounds. He has now reached the 30-point mark in four of his past six games and has averaged 31.2 points in that stretch.

Williamson scored 25 points against the Jazz in the first meeting but didn’t play in the fourth quarter or overtime after crashing hard onto the court when his shot was blocked on a fast break.

“Zion is — he’s a matchup problem,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said after the two wins vs. Phoenix. “He just attacks. And when he attacks like he does, he’s just tough to cover. … It’s incredible what he can do.”

Even though the Jazz have slipped of late, falling to 15-14 after their surprising 12-6 start, they have continued to impress, all things considered. They lost at Denver on Saturday night, but the Nuggets didn’t eke out the 115-110 win until a very shorthanded Utah team ran out of juice while playing the second night of a back-to-back.

While losing eight of their last 11 games, the Jazz have been bitten by the injury and illness bug. They were without Lauri Markkanen (illness), Mike Conley (injury management), Jordan Clarkson (bruised right hip) and Collin Sexton (right hamstring strain) in the loss to the Nuggets.

“I thought they played really hard (and) honestly, I thought they deserved to win the game,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said of his team at Denver. “Some unfortunate missed shots, some unfortunate moments down the stretch. That’s a really good team we just played, and I thought our team represented ourselves really well.”

Nickeil Alexander-Walker had the biggest outing for the Jazz. In his second start of the year, he logged a season-high 27 points in 40 minutes by hitting 9-of-16 shots and making five 3-pointers.

“I think Nickeil overall played a really good game,” Hardy said. “I love the way Nickeil approaches the game. … I think he competes on both ends really hard.”

Along with Alexander-Walker, the Jazz have received solid contributions of late from Kelly Olynyk, Malik Beasley and Talen Horton-Tucker. But they will be hard-pressed to find success against Williamson & Co., in a rare two-game home set between the teams Tuesday and Thursday, if some of core players are unable to return.

Markkanen, Conley, Clarkson and Sexton average a combined 66.9 points per game for the Jazz. Markkanen, Conley and Clarkson fully participated in the Jazz’s practice Monday, the team announced.

–Field Level Media