The streaking Utah Jazz look to ring in the New Year on the right note as they visit the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night.
The Jazz finished 2019 on a three-game winning streak, including victories over the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers.
The hot streak coincided with the Dec. 23 trade for Jordan Clarkson, which saw the 27-year-old combo guard join Utah while Dante Exum and draft picks left for Cleveland.
The deal has been extremely impactful in the short term for the Jazz, who have one of the NBA’s worst benches. In his first three games with Utah, Clarkson averaged 16.0 points on 47.4 percent shooting.
“I’m really concentrating on the game plan and how to help my team,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune. “I have a free mind, not a lot of thinking going into it on the offensive side. Then, I try to lock in our coverages (defensively).”
In Utah’s most recent game against the Detroit Pistons, Clarkson scored 20 points off the bench — the most by any Jazz reserve this season.
Earlier this season, Clarkson had one of his best games of the season against the Bulls. On Oct. 30 while still a member of the Cavaliers, he went to the free-throw line nine times as he scored 17 points in a 117-111 Cleveland win. In 14 career games against the Bulls, he is averaging 14.8 points and 3.1 assists.
The Bulls finished 2019 with Monday’s 21-point loss to the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks. Two days before, Chicago had picked up one of its best wins of the season.
The Bulls held the Atlanta Hawks to only 37.2 percent shooting as they posted a 116-81 victory Saturday. The Hawks’ 81 points marked the fewest given up by the Bulls all season.
Six players — Wendell Carter Jr., Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Tomas Satoransky, Coby White and Thaddeus Young — scored in double figures, with Markkanen leading the group with 25 points.
After struggling the first two months of the season, Markkanen turned it around in December. The Finland native averaged 17.6 points on 50.8 percent shooting from the field and 41.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc in 14 games.
“I feel good,” Markkanen told NBCSports Chicago. “I’m playing with confidence.”
The team has been dealing with some sickness in the locker room. Cristiano Felicio was sent home from the game Monday because of an illness. Carter had to leave the game two minutes into the contest due to what coach Jim Boylen called “stomach stuff” but later returned.
“I’ve been kind of sick these last couple days, but I’ll get over it,” Carter said after the game. “I ain’t going to say I feel horrible, but I’m definitely not 100 percent.”
This is the first matchup between the teams this season. Last year, Utah won both meetings. In last season’s game in Utah, Donovan Mitchell scored 34 points and Rudy Gobert grabbed 16 rebounds while scoring 15 points in a 110-102 win. The Jazz followed that up with a 114-83 win at the United Center two months later.
–Field Level Media