Why do Jazz fans stand out around the league? Nights like this.


Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 127-115 win over the Washington Wizards from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. An ugly game saved

There were possessions of this game that should be X-rated. You should have to show ID to be able to watch them, lest kids watch it and be influenced.

This is just one play from each team, but I could show you 20 or 30 without difficulty.

Out of this mess, Jordan Clarkson saved the game. To be sure, his style can also err on the side of difficult to watch. He has received fair criticism for what has been a poor season. But more than any player available for either the Wizards or Jazz tonight, he knows what his spots are, how to get there, and how to get a reasonable look. He made those shots, scoring 38 points, getting 10 rebounds, adding seven assists.

But what stood out to me was the moment in time the Jazz found themselves in. The Wizards are now the NBA’s worst team, with a more dismal record than the Detroit Pistons. They had lost 13 games in a row. And while somewhat due to injury, the Jazz were going toe-to-toe with them on their home floor. I’m not sure it’s rock bottom, but it felt close.

Despite all that, the building was rocking.

I’m not sure Jazz fans have gotten enough credit for just how good they are. The team has never won a championship, and this is their second consecutive season of tanking at the end to get a draft pick. They have no superstars, and their best players who aren’t playing. It’s a weekday, and they’re playing the worst team in the league. Not only that, they were losing. Malaise should be on the table.

And yet, the Delta Center was full. Loud, too. It was their 281st consecutive sellout, according to the Jazz.

I think there are at least 25 markets in the NBA where that game doesn’t sell out. There are probably 29 fanbases that would have been less engaged.

But Utah is different — for whatever reason, fans are still showing up in a major way. That’s special, I think.

2. The post-game dunk from Collin Sexton

In avoidance of talking about that game as much as possible, let’s talk about the dunk that happened after the final buzzer.

I mean, whoa! That’s a legitimately terrific dunk — I think it would have been a top-5 dunk at this year’s dunk contest, maybe top-2. Sexton pulled it after playing 33 minutes in a second’s notice. Here’s a quick transcript of the assembled media’s questions to Sexton after the game.

Take us through the dunk.

Um, I knew what I wanted to do at the end. It was either that or like a windmill or something. I don’t know. I just casually walked up. I was like, I’m gonna try something. The game is over. So you might as well.

You got a name for that?

That’s my bounce East Bay. I like doing that one.

How many do you have?

A few. A few. I can jump a little bit. I can jump a little bit sometimes, yeah. Sometimes I have to remind myself, I might as well. I might as well try.

You ever thought about doing the dunk contest?

I thought about it during COVID, but just during that whole time, it was tough. It was in Atlanta, so I wanted to do it really bad, but. They asked me a few times. Maybe one day, maybe I’ll get in there and make it fun. I’ve got a few dunks up my sleeve that would give me 50s.

What would you score this one?

This one right there, that’s like a 40. It’s a 40. Just because, you know, this is just an East Bay. I’ve got a few other ones that I know would give me 50s.

40 is literally the lowest score they can give right now.

Really? Then, okay, it’s a 45. A 45 for sure.

John said that was a nine out of 10, but he thinks you could do better.

Oh, that’s what I’m saying. John understands. John knows me pretty well, he knows I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve for sure.

What’s the best dunk that you have?

I don’t know. I think maybe that one. I want to try the one foot god — he’s from back home — (My note: I’m 99% sure he’s talking about Jordan Southerland) — he does the between the legs, behind the back. So like, that’s one that I would definitely, definitely try.

Have you done it before?

I’ve tried it a few times. It’s tough. It’s definitely tough doing it off of two feet, but I think it would be one that I would for sure can do.

100 percent, Collin Sexton is one of my favorite athletes I’ve ever covered. The dude believes in himself to an absolutely ridiculous degree, whether it’s in an imaginary dunk contest or playing in a 3-on-5 game or playing bulldog defense against anyone in the league. Coaches regularly have to beg him to stop practicing or working out. He’s an insane human being, but is so purely delightful that he must be protected all costs.

3. Player maturity

Luka Samanic got the start tonight in place of Lauri Markkanen, mostly because the Jazz don’t have anyone else who is tall who is better. Samanic mostly struggled, to be honest.

But talking about Samanic allowed us to get into some interesting conversations with Will Hardy on player maturity. By all accounts — both Samanic’s and Hardy’s — Samanic was really immature in his first few years after being drafted with the San Antonio Spurs. Now, he’s a lot better.

“Luka would be the first person to tell you, he didn’t handle it great. His youth sort of showed, he was a little immature at times. He’s never been a bad dude. He’s never been somebody that you didn’t want to coach. But I think he didn’t deal with adversity as well as he does now,” Hardy said. “I just see such a different approach in him every single day — like his work ethic is twice as high as it was then.”

That led to an obvious question. The Jazz are in a stage of their rebuild where they constantly have to evaluate super-young talent. They then have to decide whether they’re likely a lost cause and they want to move on, or if they want to bet on their improvement. How do they make those guesses?

“I think you always see little signs of people being able to deal with adversity, being able to deal with not getting what they want. I use Brice and Taylor as examples. This year, they went to the G-League and they handled themselves great… they didn’t complain, the way they worked hard,” Hardy said. “And then there’s always going to be some guys that, they show you that maybe they’re not ready to deal with what they are getting. Luka is an example of that, like we just talked about. It’s hard to predict human behavior, but ultimately, that’s what we’re doing. We’re betting on people, not necessarily just players.”

“But, you know, we also have a lot of data points. You have a lot of touch points. It’s not just how they are with me. It’s how they are with the assistant coaches in their on-court workout. It’s how they act with our performance team — how diligent they are about their weight room sessions. Or even things like going to get treatment, are they doing those things every day? Or if they made a mistake early in the season, can they course correct and not do it again? Not skip a session, not not answer a text message? We try to use as many touch points as we can to make those, as you call them, guesses. And they are. You’re never quite sure, but I think people do give you pretty good indicators about where they are.”

There’s a lot more guesses to go, and the Jazz will need to make the right ones in order to get back to contention.

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