HOUSTON — Before playing New York Monday, some Jazz players had vowed payback, feeling the Knicks had disrespected and toyed with them nine days earlier in a 29-point blowout in New York.
Everyone knows how that worked out, however, as the Jazz were thoroughly outplayed by an old and depleted Knicks’ team, 90-83, Monday night.
So don’t expect to hear talk of payback by Jazz players when they take on Houston Wednesday night at the Toyota Center. The last time the two teams met, the Rockets beat the Jazz even worse than the Knicks did, taking a 125-80 victory in what turned out to be Utah’s worst loss ever at EnergySolutions Arena.
The Jazz certainly have reason to get back at the Rockets, who like the Knicks, embarrassed them, firing up 3-pointers throughout the fourth quarter (and making eight of them).
At this point, any kind of victory will do for the Jazz, and Wednesday’s game against the Rockets is doubly important because the Rockets are a team the Jazz are chasing in the race for the final couple of spots in the Western Conference playoff race.
The Rockets are 36-31, two games ahead of the Jazz, with the 36-33 Lakers in between. A win puts the Jazz within a game of Houston heading into the final 14 games, while a loss makes it a three-game gap, which would be hard to make up, especially considering the Rockets would hold the tiebreaker with a 3-1 edge this season.
Nobody knows the importance of the game more than Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin.
“It’s a huge game,’’ Corbin said Tuesday before flying out. “As bad as we feel about the loss last night we still have an opportunity tomorrow — what can be a two-game swing. Houston’s one of those teams that’s right in that bubble with us. They’re ahead of us right now and if we win it would be a huge win for us, put us that much closer to being in the playoffs.’’
Speaking of bad losses, the Rockets are coming off a bad loss of their own, a 30-point home defeat to Golden State on Monday night that tied their worst loss of the season. In that game, the Rockets managed 10 points in the first quarter and fell behind 54-31 at halftime. It had to feel a bit like the big Jazz loss to the Rockets in January.
In contrast to the Knicks, who have the oldest team in the league, the Rockets are the youngest and they’re determined not to blow their playoff spot like they did last year when they lost six straight games at a similar spot in the season.
“The most important thing is how we come back, how we react,’’ said Francisco Garcia, the oldest player on the team at age 32. “We just have to go forward and move on. That’s the beauty of the NBA — you have the next game to redeem yourself. That’s what we’ve got to do.’’
The Jazz couldn’t have said it better themselves.
FORMER TEAMMATES: He wasn’t laughing the night before when 40-year-old Kurt Thomas was playing the entire fourth quarter for the Knicks and contributing a big part in the Jazz loss with his defense and overall presence in the paint.
But the morning after, the 50-year-old Corbin got a good chuckle when a writer reminded him that he used to play on the same Miami Heat team as Thomas 17 years ago when Thomas was a rookie and he was a veteran.
“That was a long time ago,’’ Corbin said of the partial season they spent together in Miami in 1996. “Kurt’s always been a really, really tough player. He’s a really good rebounder and a tough defender, just a competitor in everything.’’
Corbin isn’t surprised Thomas is still getting it done at 40 as the oldest player in the NBA.
“I can see why he’s still playing — he just loves to play the game,’’ he said. “He’ll always have his hands on guys and be mixing it up and be where the ball is, talking trash and trying to win at whatever he’s in and it showed last night.’’
WE HARDLY KNEW YE: Right before practice Tuesday, Travis Leslie made the rounds, shaking hands and saying his goodbyes to Jazz coaches and players.
Most Jazz fans probably didn’t know Leslie was on the team because he never played a minute during his short stay with the franchise.
The 6-foot-4 Leslie had been signed to a 10-day contract March 10 after averaging 16.1 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Santa Cruz Warriors of the NBA’s D-League, but was released Tuesday morning.
“He did nothing wrong. We made sure he understood that,’’ said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. “He was great. He appreciated the opportunity to come in and for us to get a look at him and our franchise and see if it’s a good fit. He’s a good guy and hopefully down the road we’ll get to know him a lot better.’’
Leslie was originally selected by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2011 NBA draft after playing for three years at the University of Georgia. He was the ninth D-League call-up in Jazz history. The most recent D-League call-up player for the Jazz was guard Blake Ahearn, who played at the end of last season and in the playoffs.