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Markkanen's return fuels rout of Clippers as Jazz get back to .500


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SALT LAKE CITY โ€” Los Angeles Clippers coach Tyronn Lue heaped compliment after compliment onto Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen ahead of Wednesday's game.

He praised Markkanen's ability to shoot and how he attacks the basket; he lauded his presence in the post and explained how the forward's increasing confidence has only made him better as the season's gone on.

"He realized he's the best player (on the Jazz)," Lue said.

There were a lot of nice words before the game. Unfortunately for Lue, Markkanen went out and backed them all up Wednesday night.

Markkanen, who missed Utah's last two games with a bruised hip, had 34 points on 11-of-20 shooting (6-of-6 from the 3-point line) and grabbed 12 boards as the Jazz routed the Clippers 126-103 at Vivint Arena.

There was a two-play sequence that demonstrated exactly what Lue found so impressive about the Finnish star.

In the third quarter, Markkanen caught a pass as he cut to the basket and took a gather step and exploded up; he hammered in a one-handed tomahawk slam over LA center Ivica Zubac. On the next possession, Markkanen pulled up for a 27-foot 3-pointer.

There's not many players in the league that can pull off those two plays.

It was a dominant return for Markkanen, and it led the Jazz to their fourth win in their last five games. It was also the first game this season Utah led wire-to-wire. Utah climbed back up to .500 (24-24) with the win and are tied for sixth in the West.

"I thought it was another game where Lauri seemed to kind of do a little bit of everything," Jazz coach Will Hardy said. "He made 3s, got to the basket with force early in the game. He's just continuing to grow before our eyes every night in terms of understanding there's a lot of different ways to be effective on the offensive end in this league, especially when you have his combination of size, skill and athleticism."

Markkanen scored Utah's first 7 points as the Jazz quickly jumped out to a double-digit lead that it held for much of the night.

"I expected to be a little bit more tired than I actually was," Markkanen said, "but I felt good; just tried to come out and be aggressive, and get going early and get into rhythm again."

Markkanen came into the game averaging 29.1 points in his last 15 games. He picked up right where he left off against the Clippers, and his impact went more than just the surface level.

"He finds ways to sacrifice for his teammates as a screener, as a cutter, and helps his teammates get good shots, so there's more plays than you think that involve Lauri," Hardy said. "His unselfishness continues to stand out to me."

Which is partially why he wasn't alone in having a big night against the B-level Clippers who were playing on the second end of a back-to-back set.

Mike Conley had 17 points and nine assists, and Walker Kessler followed up his monster game on Monday with 13 points and 11 rebounds. As a team, the Jazz shot 59% from 3-point range.

It was one of those games the Jazz were supposed to win; they did so handily.

"The Clippers were undermanned tonight, but I don't think that takes away anything from what our team did in terms of them playing together and executing on both ends of the floor," Hardy said. "There's always going to be situations and games where teams are missing people. And we've been in that situation ourselves at times, and you still have to play the game.

"I thought that our team's focus through the entire game and being able to refocus after the Clippers would go on little runs, I thought it was the reason why we were able to come out with the win tonight."

Markkanen coming back sure helped, too.

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