The Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans soared to a roaring start by beating their respective rivals in the new NBA season-opening games Wednesday night (Thursday in the Philippines).
The new-look Utah Jazz racked up a 123-102 victory over the Denver Nuggets behind Collin Sexton and Lauri Markkanen who fired 20 and 17 points, respectively.
Sexton said, “We all have chips on our shoulders. Everyone here wants to show people that we’re a tough team.”
Utah Jazz not tanking
The win is the first for new Jazz coach Will Hardy, who had a stint with the Boston Celtics as an assistant coach. “There’s a real camaraderie with this group even at this early stage because I think all of our guys understand that none of them can do it on their own.”
Hardy’s crew figured in a water bottle bath to celebrate their win with a water bottle bath and presented him with the game ball that made him emotional.
“We were just so happy for him. He deserves it. He’s given a lot of guys a lot of confidence to go out there and play the right way,” Mike Conley said.
The loss came out as a surprise for the Nuggets who are built for a title bid and the Jazz who are still rebuilding after trading pillars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.
Denver coach Mike Malone said the Jazz clearly outworked them in the first half and they looked like a different team and felt different like a different team in the second half.
Rudy Gay canned 16 points, Malik Beasley made 15, and Conley with 13 for the Jazz that also had contributions coming from rookie Walker Kessler (12 points and 10 rebounds).
The Nuggets leaned on Nikola Jokic who hit 27 markers and Aaron Gordon who accounted for 22 but they were not satisfied at all.
Two-time reigning Most Valuable Player Jokic said they seemed to be at a loss, saying, “Even when we provided open looks, we didn’t shoot those. I think the mentality was that we didn’t know what to do.”
Zion is back
Meanwhile, Zion Williamson staged a huge comeback to lift the New Orleans Pelicans’ rousing season-opening 130-108 win against the Brooklyn Nets.
Williamson, the 2019 NBA Draft No. 1 pick, erupted with 25 points, looking fully recovered having been sidelined for a year with a broken right foot.
Brandon Ingram sank 28 baskets as CJ McCollum (21 points) and Jonas Valanciunas (15 points and 13 rebounds) also made huge contributions.
The Nets, however, became a one-man show with Kevin Durant finishing with 32 points although Patty Mills (16) and Kyrie Irving (15) also provided support for a losing cause.
Over in Miami, DeMar DeRozan made 28 of his total 37 points in the second half and Ayo Dosunmu had 17 as the short-handed Chicago Bulls doused cold water on the Miami Heat, 116-108.
Bulls’ Nikola Vucevic scored 15 on top of 17 rebounds as teammate Goran Dragic had 12.
Jimmy Butler poured in 24 points and Tyler Herro made 23 for Miami.
In Atlanta, the Atlanta Hawks demolished the Houston Rockets, 117-107, while the Memphis Grizzlies outlasted the New York Knicks, 115-112, via overtime.