We’re headed west!
The Sixers will take the court in Utah to take on the Jazz on Saturday evening for the start of a five-game West Coast road trip. The visitors will look to bounce back after falling at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 133-114, on Thursday night. The contest was an overall defensive failure for the hosts, a concerning trend to start on the cusp of a five-game road trip to the West Coast.
At 25-16, the Sixers are holding on to the fifth place spot in the Eastern Conference. The 22-23 Jazz currently sit at eighth place in the West. The Jazz are coming off a slim 112-108 victory hosting the Orlando Magic on Friday night.
The last time the Sixers met the Jazz, on November 13, 2022, Joel Embiid put up an incredible career-high 59-point performance to lead the Sixers to a 105-98 victory at the Wells Fargo Center. Tyrese Maxey followed with 18 points and James Harden was out with injury at the time.
Another key to that victory was somewhat containing 7-foot Lauri Markkanen, holding him to a below-average 18 points. Markkanen has been impressive this season leading the Jazz. Entering play Friday night, Markkanen was averaging 24.5 points on a true shooting percentage of 61.5, both career-highs for the sixth-year forward. He recently notched a career-best 49 points on the Houston Rockets in the Jazz’s 131-114 victory on January 5. He is proving to be an extremely dangerous player because of his abilities both in the paint at close range as well as heavily contributing from beyond the arc. As of Friday, Markkanen was shooting 7.1 3-pointers per game with a shooting percentage of 41.1 from long range.
The Sixers cannot let Markkanen and the Jazz do whatever they want in the same way they let Shai Gilgeous-Alexander run all over them last game. There was a complete lack of defensive presence for the Sixers on Thursday, with the Thunder seemingly wide open from beyond the arc at times and the Sixers allowing SGA to drive straight into the paint with ease. With Markkanen’s prowess in both areas, the Sixers may have to run a bit different of a line-up and certainly a different substitution pattern than Thursday night if they don’t want to let the Jazz run away with it.
The Sixers will benefit from the fact that, as proven last meeting, the Jazz seemingly have absolutely no answer to Embiid, allowing him to put up his career-high performance. The Sixers will also have James Harden this time around to help spread the floor, making it even easier for Embiid to maneuver.
As far as injuries, the Jazz are currently missing Kelly Olynyk with an ankle injury. Olynyk, a Jazz starter when available, averages 12.2 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. The Jazz will also be on the second leg of a back-to-back when the Sixers come to town.
The Sixers have a chance to get back into the win column against a Western Conference team that has cooled down after a hot start and is below .500 in their last 10 games, but it will require actual defense and possibly even some substitution pattern changes from Rivers to get it done.