Will Hardy says Utah Jazz have a ‘different presence about us’ after road trip

The Jazz have won three of their last four away from Salt Lake City.

(Gerald Herbert | AP) Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen shoots over New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) in the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023.

Will Hardy wasn’t too bothered by the final score.

Yes, the Utah Jazz lost on Thursday night, falling 112-105 to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Forget the Big Easy.

Focus on the big picture.

“Overall, it’s been a good road trip,” Hardy said. “I want the team to be upset about losing tonight for sure, but to also feel very good about where they’re at as a team.”

After starting a woeful 2-10 in road games, the Jazz have now won three of their last four away from Salt Lake City.

And Hardy said he’s seen a shift in his players along the way, “a different presence about us.”

“I see a team that every day is preparing to win,” he said. “The way they carry themselves at practice and shoot around. The way they prepare for these games. The way they walk onto the floor. They really do think they can win every night.”

Jazz still sit 12th in the West, but the coach sees a team on the rise.

“We’ve been playing much better basketball the last three weeks than the beginning of the season,” Hardy said. “I do think our team is trending in the right direction.”

The biggest change?

“First and foremost, the ball is moving way better,” Hardy said. “I think everybody is comfortable with how they’re playing, how we would like to play.

“There’s not an anxiety about getting off the ball, like it’s not going to come back to you; I think everybody feels like we’re trying to make the right play and find open shots for our team. That’s led to more activity defensively.”

And that’s all led to something bigger.

“They have a confidence about the group,” Hardy said. “The way they interact with each other is way different than it was at the beginning of the year. There’s a lot of familiarity that we’ve been able to build. I think overall the feeling around the team is just way different than it was a month and a half ago.”

Keyonte comes off the bench

After missing six games with a sore right foot, rookie point guard Keyonte George was back in the lineup on Tuesday.

“It was exciting just to be back out there,” he said. “That was the most games I’ve ever missed consecutively in my career.”

George, however, was not back in the starting lineup, as Hardy stuck with the starting backcourt of Collin Sexton and Kris Dunn against the Spurs and Pelicans.

“The guys had a great stretch when I was out,” George said. “I just wanted to come back and not take nothing away from them. … Play hard and continue to keep the guys that are in rhythm in rhythm.”

Quick hits

IT WAS A ROUGH START to the season. Are the Jazz at a turning point or a tipping point?

COLLIN SEXTON’S 360 DUNK dazzled everyone. His coach might’ve been the only person who didn’t absolutely love it.

HOW DO YOU STOP A UNICORN? Ask Lauri Markkanen.