Jazz, Pelicans meet amid successful early returns

It's so far, so good for the new-look Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans.

Both teams are 2-0 with new lineups as they prepare to meet Sunday night in New Orleans.

The Jazz have won at home against Denver and at Minnesota on Friday after an offseason in which they lost All-Stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.

The Pelicans have yet to trail after road victories against Brooklyn and Charlotte as Zion Williamson has returned after missing all of last season because of a foot injury.

Those are the first two games that Williamson has played with CJ McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas.

Williamson, McCollum and forward Brandon Ingram, who led New Orleans to the playoffs in Williamson's absence last season, receive most of the attention, but Valanciunas led the way Friday. He had 30 points and 17 rebounds against the Hornets for his second double-double in three nights.

"(Valanciunas) was a monster on both ends of the floor," Pelicans coach Willie Green said. "We found a segment there where we just threw the ball in the post to him. And that's a luxury to have. Not all teams can throw the ball in the post and get dominant production. We can do it with JV. We can do it with Zion. And we can do it with Brandon."

New Orleans' fast start is a significant contrast to last season when it started 1-12 in Green's rookie season as head coach before surging after the McCollum trade.

Ingram has scored 28 points in each of the first two games. The Pelicans have started fast in both games, scoring 32 first-quarter points against the Nets and 35 against Charlotte.

Ingram, Valanciunas, Williamson and McCollum are all averaging more than 20 points.

"That's four different players and it keeps the defense honest," Williamson said.

While the Pelicans have been incorporating a former All-Star (Williamson) into a playoff lineup, the Jazz have replaced two major contributors.

The expectations entering the season were unusually low for Utah, but it beat the Nuggets by 21 and bounced back from a 15-3 deficit to beat Minnesota 132-126 in overtime.

Jordan Clarkson, one of the primary holdovers from last season, scored 29 points and made 7-of-12 3-pointers against the Wolves. He has a much bigger role this season as the starting shooting guard after being the sixth man last season.

"(Clarkson) is finding ways to just stay the course," said first-year coach Will Hardy, who replaced Quin Snyder. "He's in a different role this year than he has been the last couple of years, and that's an adjustment.

"That's no small thing what he's doing. He's playing with a lot of different players, and so he's finding his shots and his spots a little bit differently than he has in the past."

Lauri Markkanen, who had 24 points and 13 rebounds against the Timberwolves, has averaged a team-best 20.5 points through two games as six Utah players are averaging at least 12.5.

"They understand that based on what certain people say about them that we are sort of an underdog," Hardy said. "I like that our team has a chip on their shoulder. It brings them closer together every night."

--Field Level Media