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Utah Jazz sizzle from the outside, rout L.A. Clippers 125-105 to end preseason

Jazz shooters hit 24 of 52 3-pointers in the romp in Los Angeles.

Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson, left, goes up for a dunk as Los Angeles Clippers forward Mfiondu Kabengele (25) defends during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Back when training camp started, Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder said he wanted his players to be even more aggressive from 3-point range this coming season. Days later, Bojan Bogdanovic lit up recounting how Snyder had promised to turn him loose behind the arc this year.

Then, after the Jazz’s first preseason game, Snyder joked that even a less-than-genius individual such as himself could figure out the most efficient deep-ball team in the league should increase its volume from outside.

Notice a theme?

The Jazz spelled it out once again in crystal-clear detail  in their preseason finale Thursday night in Los Angeles, firing up more than 30 tries from deep in the first half alone as they rolled to a 125-105 victory over the Clippers at Staples Center.

“Coach has been stressing it to us since we’ve been in the [Orlando] bubble — that was kind of the start of it. But, just coming into this preseason, [we are] just trying to find an identity, and emphasizing the offensive end,” said Jordan Clarkson. “Those shots are good for us. We’re doing a great job of taking ‘em, and making ‘em as well.”

Not that it matters, but for those keeping score at home, Utah finished its truncated preseason slate an undefeated 3-0.

The far more relevant scores, however, were the ones going in from behind the line that Chris Ford broke in for the NBA way back on Oct. 12, 1979.

The Clippers shot about 9% better from the field than did the Jazz in Thursday night’s first half, and yet Utah led by 10 points at the break. The reason? Los Angeles was 6 of 13 beyond the arc; the Jazz were 13 of 31.

Indeed, just under two-thirds of Utah’s shots in those initial 24 minutes came from deep.

And though that incendiary pace of attempts did not continue (the Jazz finished the game 24 of 52 from 3-point range — 46.2%), the point was made: while the Jazz hope they can return to the ranks of the league’s defensive elite, they know they’re already there on offense.

“Preseason is a time — particularly the practices, too — you want to try to emphasize certain things, and it takes time for a team to formulate an identity. That’s just something we’ve been pushing and emphasizing,” Snyder said. “… I don’t think pace is the be-all, end-all for offensive efficiency; however, we want to play to our strengths, and, for myself and our coaching staff, that’s a strength.”

This was the second time in three preseason games the Jazz attempted 30 or more 3s in a half. And while Bogdanovic may be Utah’s foremost practitioner of the 3-point barrage going forward (and he did his part Thursday, with 9 of his 11 field-goal attempts coming on 3s), he’ll hardly be the only one.

Clarkson, formerly an infuriating devotee of the long two, is now fully with the program, and attempted 12 of his 15 shots beyond the arc. Eight of Mike Conley’s 12 tries were 3s. Joe Ingles took seven shots, five of which came from long-distance.

In fact, the only Jazz rotation players who will get any regular volume of shots who saw fewer than half their attempts coming from outside the arc on Thursday were Rudy Gobert (all six tries inside) and Donovan Mitchell, who had just six 3s among 15 total shots.

Bogdanovic and Clarkson led Utah’s scoring effort with 20 points apiece, Mitchell added 15 (to go along with eight assists), while Conley and Gobert contributed 12 apiece.

Bogey, however, was more interested in discussing the work the team did on the other end, saying the open looks beyond the arc were largely a product of the stops they got.

“All these shots come from our good defense. So if we guard and play the way we played tonight, then we’re going to be able to shoot many 3s early in our offense,” Bogdanovic said. “… Of course [playing that way] is fun, but it’s also a small, tiny line between taking wild shots and and good shot that early in the offense. So, like I said, our defense has got to be the part that carries us.”

In other developments, both Royce O’Neale and Shaq Harrison made their ’20-21 debuts — the former finally out of the NBA’s COVID-19 protocol, while the latter is now fully recovered from a broken hand.

Snyder said prior to the game that, with the regular season around the corner (the Jazz’s opener comes Dec. 23 in Portland), he’d be looking to throw rotation regular O’Neale right into the mix, and he did wind up logging 22 minutes, accumulating five points, five assists, four rebounds and a steal.

Harrison, meanwhile, was more limited, but had some nice moments — particularly on one first-half defensive sequence when, matched up against Clippers star Paul George, he flashed some excellent lateral quickness by shifting into position and cutting off a drive.

The fourth quarter once again saw Snyder empty his bench with his team up by a significant margin. Georges Niang racked up 10 points in just nine minutes, hitting all four of his shot attempts. Second-year guard Miye Oni also stood out, drilling a couple of contested triples and earning a steal to stop a fast break. And rookie Elijah Hughes continued his garbage-time scoring binge with nine more points.

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