Two Western Conference teams that made impressive strides in the right direction last season will begin the 2023-24 campaign against each other on Wednesday night when the Utah Jazz host the Sacramento Kings in Salt Lake City.
Along with being a pivotal season for the teams as they work their way up the NBA ladder, the 2023-24 campaign is historic for both franchises.
The Kings are celebrating their 100th anniversary, dating beyond their Kansas City and Cincinnati days to when they began in upstate New York as the Rochester Seagrams in 1923. The Jazz are commemorating their 50th season as an NBA franchise, having originated as an expansion team in New Orleans in 1974.
Utah comes into the season with hopes of improving on its better-than-expected 37-45 record from a season ago — after trading away cornerstones Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert in a reboot.
The Jazz will rely on familiar faces in All-Star forward Lauri Markkanen, 2023 rookie standout Walker Kessler, sharpshooter Jordan Clarkson and guard Collin Sexton. They’re also hoping recently acquired veteran John Collins can bolster their roster after ending his tenure with Atlanta in frustration.
“I’d say the one thing that has surprised me is the lack of ego here,” Collins said arriving to Utah via trade this offseason. “It’s refreshing to have a group of guys that truly emphasize playing team basketball, and that want to do so. … It’s nice for me to see. It’s exciting for me to be around, and you know, it helps me wake up in the morning motivated to go play.”
Utah started on fire last fall to the surprise of many, going 10-3 before securing a spot in the draft lottery by losing nine of its final 11 games. The Jazz were 3-2 this preseason, including a 116-113 loss to Sacramento last Thursday.
“I’m happy that we’re now at a point where our next game is a real one,” said Jazz coach Will Hardy, who’s beginning his second season at the helm. “I think the team is in a good place mentally, and physically in pretty good shape.”
Sacramento will boost its chances of repeating as Pacific Division champion and being a playoff contender if it can stay as healthy as it did last season. Kings players missed the fewest games due to injury in the league en route to a 48-34 record.
The stakes are higher in Sacramento now that their 16-season playoff drought has been snapped. The Kings are aiming to extend their run far past the first round, where they pushed Golden State to seven games before falling 4-3.
“We’re competing for something special,” three-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis said. “And we’re going to have to bring it every night.”
The Kings return all five starters and 10 players from their successful squad, including De’Aaron Fox and Harrison Barnes.
“Everybody needs to be all in,” Kings coach Mike Brown said. “It’s hard to go from a good team to a great team, and that’s what we’re striving to do.
“We want to compete for a championship and the only way to do that is to have the utmost level of commitment from everybody — from all units across the board, vertically and horizontally, not just the basketball players and the team but community relations, ticket sales, medical, strength and conditioning, coaching staff. We all have to be aligned in order for that to happen.”