The last time the Utah Jazz met the Sacramento Kings, 16 days ago in the Delta Center, they at least made the monarchs sweat a little. The first time they played this season, Dec. 7, the Kings did whatever they pleased against the young Jazz, so a little progress seemed to be made by the second meeting.
"They can toy around with you and allow you to stay in there and then, bang, all of a sudden they hit you with about three good plays because you fall asleep in one area," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.
The Kings have won 11 of the last 12 games against Utah, dominating even back when the Jazz had the two now-departed future Hall of Famers.
Tonight at 5 (MST) in Arco Arena, it's Round 3 of the royal ones, with the NBA's second-best record of 20-8 despite a two-game losing streak, against Sloan's 16-13 upstarts, who have a two-game win streak but almost no idea of whom they'll put on the court tonight against against Sacramento's Brad Miller, Vlade Divac and No. 3 NBA scorer Peja Stojakovic (24.6 scoring average).
Injuries continue to eat away at the Jazz.
Saturday in the Zion's Bank Basketball Center in Salt Lake City, Sloan had only eight able-bodied players and couldn't hold a full practice. He settled for drills and film work.
Forward Matt Harpring sat out with bursitis in his left knee and chondromalacia in his right. Forward Ben Handlogten was idled by an inflamed left knee after hyperextending it in the fourth quarter of Friday's 97-94 overtime Delta-Center win over Toronto. Center Greg Ostertag tested his inflamed left knee with light running and shooting. He missed Friday's game due to the sore knee.
Trainer Gary Briggs said Harpring and Ostertag are "probable" for tonight and Handlogten's "questionable."
"We'll play whoever is here," said Sloan. "We wish Greg would get healthy. We're not going to force him back to play. We've never done that with any player. We just have to forget about it, quite frankly, and go on about our business.
"I don't think you've heard us complain about anybody getting hurt, and we've had four or five guys go out. With a team like this, we just put somebody out there, and they play hard. I don't know what else to expect."
If Ostertag and Handlogten don't play, center Jarron Collins is the only real post man. Power forward Andrei Kirilenko may have to slide to the middle to back up Collins, and Sloan said Sasha Pavlovic may have to help more at the bigger positions. "We'll have to play Andrei probably some minutes in there and try to mix and match and see where we are if none of those other guys can play," the coach said.
"The biggest thing is trying to give us hustle plays, whoever is playing," said Sloan. "If you step out there and do that, then we can compete to some extent if we do that every night."
Hustle plays will be necessary tonight. "Everybody knows what a great team they are and how difficult they've been for us to play over the years," Sloan said. "We've got to go in and learn something every time we play against them, try to be able to play them a little bit better if we can.
"That's our ambition try to learn how to play against a better basketball team."
Sacramento is so talented offensively, Sloan said, it simply "picks you apart" whenever concentration wavers. "And then you get to feeling sorry for yourself and you start looking at your teammates and say this guy's got to do this and this guy's got to do that; well, we've all got to do our job. We're at a mismatch at every position. So what do you do? Well, we've still got to play."
Friday's overtime victory over Toronto was good practice, since Utah nearly gave the game away half a dozen times in the late going. It could have moped and pointed fingers, but it kept plugging away instead."That was important," Sloan said. "I think they were looking for an out to say, 'Poor me, we made some mistakes.' Well that's the way life is. You can lay down and feel sorry for yourself, or you can fight back. I was proud of the fact we fought back. I was impressed by what they did."