“I really like this group” | Utah shows growth in preseason finale

Will Hardy understands that preseason isn’t about winning and losing.

It’s about growth, seeing progress day by day and watching that progress unfold on the pitch.

Although Utah’s preseason ended Friday night as the Jazz lost 115-101 to Luka Doncic and the Mavericks, Hardy was proud of the way his team was playing.

“I’m really, really excited. … I really like this group,” he said after the game. “I think they are capable of playing really good basketball.”

Some of the progress Hardy hoped to see came from the starters, who struggled mightily against San Antonio on Tuesday night.

With Mike Conley back in the lineup, the Jazz got off to a much better start. They were more consistent on offense, finding open looks while coming out in transition. Defensively, they were the aggressors and brought physicality to the Mavericks.

Lauri Markkanen had arguably his best game in a Jazz uniform, finishing with a double-double of 21 points and 10 rebounds. He finished 9 of 13 from the floor, showing his scoring ability on multiple levels. His ability to put the ball on the ground and attack the rim from 7 feet high while hitting shots from beyond the arc is why Utah is so high on the big man from Finland.

It was also the performance of veteran Rudy Gay, who turned back the clock to finish with 16 points and six rebounds. More than just a veteran presence on the team, Gay has been phenomenal in pushing the tempo in transition and finding a way to get to his places on the pitch.

The Jazz faced Doncic and the Mavericks for three quarters, battling the entire time. It was a racing game, like both teams had, but no one could walk away.

Dallas broke out of three-point territory in the fourth quarter to take a 16-point lead, but Utah refused to leave. Thanks to plays from Walker Kessler and Talen Horton-Tucker, the Jazz brought the game down to single digits before falling in the end.

As Markkanen and Gay racked up the points, Conley showed just how good he was as Utah’s backcourt leader. Although he only shot 2 of 8 from the floor, he finished with seven points and seven assists, executing Hardy’s new offense to perfection.

Kessler continued his stellar preseason as a rookie, finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds, while Jarred Vanderbilt added eight points and eight rebounds.

Utah now has four days off before opening the season against Denver on Wednesday, October 19. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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