After a lopsided season-opening loss to the Sacramento Kings, the Utah Jazz are hoping to turn things around against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday in Salt Lake City.
The Clippers, meanwhile, are looking to improve to 2-0 while ending a regular-season drought at the Jazz. They have dropped 10 straight games in Utah.
It would bode well for the Clippers if they play like they did in Wednesday’s 123-111 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Paul George led the charge with 27 points and Kawhi Leonard scored 23. That potent duo played in only 38 games together last season due to injuries.
“It feels good,” Leonard said. “I’m happy I had a good offseason and I’m able to get back healthy.”
The Clippers led the entire way and kept pressure on Portland all game, sinking 16 3-pointers and dishing out 36 assists. Los Angeles took a 20-point lead in the second quarter and led by as many as 30 in the second half.
Russell Westbrook recorded 11 points and 13 assists, becoming the first Clippers player with that many assists in a season opener since Andre Miller in October 2002.
“Russ starting the game was tremendous,” Clippers coach Tyronne Lue said. “He really led the charge for us.”
Ivica Zubac added 20 points and 12 rebounds. Robert Covington replaced Terance Mann (sprained ankle) in the starting lineup and scored five points with three steals.
“I love how hard we played tonight and how we competed,” Lue said. “We’ve got to keep putting it together every night.”
The Jazz were blitzed by a barrage of 3-pointers from Sacramento in their opener. Harrison Barnes scored 33 points and made five of the Kings’ 19 3s on a night when the visitors shot 51 times beyond the arc.
Utah fell behind by 19 points and never got any closer than nine early in the second half in the home loss.
“Defensively, we didn’t make it tough on them (Tuesday),” said Jordan Clarkson, who led the Jazz with 24 points and six assists.
Utah attempted only 28 3-pointers and made nine, including two apiece by Clarkson, Lauri Markkanen and Talen Horton-Tucker. The Jazz attempted 23 fewer from beyond the arc than the Kings did worked against Utah.
“That’s a moment where the math is against you,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said. “I think in general we really struggled in transition to get matched and to contain the ball. Our communication was not very sharp.”
Markkanen finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Utah newcomer John Collins contributed 15 points and 11 rebounds in the team’s first season-opening loss in seven years.
Rookie Keyonte George, who was selected 16th overall in the NBA Draft, was a bright spot for the Jazz, scoring eight points in 19 minutes.
Hardy explained Tuesday why he started Horton-Tucker over George, who figures to be the Jazz’s future point guard, and veteran Kris Dunn.
“Talen pairs well with Jordan. Jordan is very much a good pairing with Lauri, because he provides a second threat offensively, a second ball-handler, a second playmaker, a second focal point of the offense,” Hardy said. “When we made the determination that Jordan was going to play with Lauri, Talen was the best fit to play with Jordan.”