Young Jazz trio performing well as Cavaliers come to town

Keyonte George Utah Jazz NBA

Collin Sexton #2 celebrates a play with Keyonte George #3 of the Utah Jazz during the second half against the Milwaukee Bucks at Delta Center on February 04, 2024 in Salt Lake City, Utah. They face the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers next. Alex Goodlett/Getty Images/AFP 

The Cleveland Cavaliers get a glimpse of the future of the Utah Jazz when the clubs meet in Salt Lake City in the NBA on Tuesday night.

While the Cavaliers (45-30) need the win in their duel with the New York Knicks and Orlando Magic for playoff position in the Eastern Conference, the Jazz (29-46) have handed the ball to some of their top prospects as they play out the string of a second consecutive postseason-less campaign.

Utah took its ninth straight loss Sunday night in Sacramento, falling 127-106 to the Kings, but didn’t go down without a fight thanks in large part to the play of rookies Keyonte George, Brice Sensabaugh and Taylor Hendricks.

READ: NBA: Luka Doncic stars as Mavericks beat Jazz, move into West 6th place

George managed 18 points in a tough matchup with Kings star De’Aaron Fox, who had 24. A 20-year-old who was the 16th pick of the 2023 draft, George was making his 21st consecutive start, during which he has averaged 16 points and 5.2 assists in a late push for NBA All-Rookie honors.

While Jazz fans have come to expect NBA-caliber performances from their point guard of the future, the recent play of Sensabaugh and Hendricks has been encouraging.

Sensabaugh, who is also 20, played a total of 16 minutes in Utah’s first 56 games after having been a late first-round pick (28th) last June.

READ: NBA: Celtics use 20-0 run to get past Jazz

However, the Ohio State product has burst onto the scene of late, scoring 14 or more points five times in the last 13 games, capped by a season-best, 22-point effort against the Kings.

“For us (rookies) to be playing 30 minutes and starting together and all that stuff is really important to us,” Sensabaugh said after draining a career-best five 3-pointers. He had never previously made more than two in a game.

“We don’t take it for granted,” he said. “We’re making sure we are sponges for information.”

Hendricks was the third 20-year-old in the youngest starting lineup in Jazz history in Sacramento. He likewise turned in a season-best scoring total, putting up 18 points.

None of the three played when the Jazz were beaten 124-116 at Cleveland on Dec. 20. Utah’s leading scorer that night, Lauri Markkanen, is not expected to play again this season because of a shoulder injury.

Sam Merrill was the game’s top scorer off the Cleveland bench in the earlier meeting with a career-high 27 points. It came against his home-state team.

The Salt Lake City native and former Utah State standout has never appeared in a game at Utah in his four-year NBA career. However, he arrives on a nice roll, having scored in double figures off the Cleveland bench in eight of his past 10 games.

The former Jazz fan is looking forward to a nice ovation and a weird experience in his homecoming.

“It’s always different when we’re playing them, and I’m walking by their locker room and it says ‘Utah Jazz,’ just knowing how much I liked them,” Merrill said.

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The Cavaliers have lost five of seven, including 130-101 on Sunday at Denver in the opener of a five-game NBA Western swing. –Field Level Media