There are bad trips, and then there are really bad trips. Thursday night at Arco Arena, the Sacramento Kings put the finishing touches on Utah's disastrous road swing by beating the Jazz 116-96 at Arco Arena.
The loss, Utah's second in a row on the road, was also its second straight defeat at the hands of a weak team from the Pacific Division. Wednesday night the Jazz fell 95-89 to the lowly L.A. Clippers.With a favorable schedule and a 1 1/2-game lead in the Midwest Division, the Jazz appeared in control of the situation a few days ago. But they proceeded to lose to the Clippers, and then to Sacramento, who had dropped five in a row going into Thursday's contest.
Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs routed Orlando to take the division lead by a half-game. Houston, a winner over Atlanta, is now just a game out of first place and a half-game behind the Jazz.
Things won't likely get better soon for the Jazz. Their next outing is next Tuesday at Phoenix, where they have only won four of 37 regular-season games in their history.
As was the case on Wednesday, the Jazz spotted their opponent a big lead, and spent the rest of the night trying to catch up. Utah took a 7-4 lead, but Sacramento guard Roy Sparrow led a 13-0 run, to put the Kings ahead 17-7. From then on the Jazz struggled, never going ahead again.
Although the Jazz lost their divisional lead, they still could make a strong finish. Seven of their final 12 games are at home, where they have lost only five games all season.
The Jazz are four games behind last year's record 55-win pace.
While Wednesday's loss was by six points to an improving L.A. team, the Thursday defeat was another matter. Sacramento has been ravaged by injuries and only 10 players even dressed for the game. Among the injured were key rookies Anthony Bonner and Travis Mays and star center Wayman Tisdale.
As was the case on Wednesday, the Jazz hopes were carried on the shoulders of Karl Malone. Malone scored 33 points, followed by John Stockton's 17.
The Kings were topped by Sparrow, who finished with 27 points, while rookie Lionel Simmons added 26.
Although Simmons was exceptional, the game's biggest swings came compliments of Sparrow and former Jazzman Jim Les. Sparrow, who had 18 first-half points, poured in 10 quick points in one first-quarter run to lead the Kings to a 23-12 lead.
Les, who had four three-point baskets, kicked off the clinching run in the fourth period. After a long dry spell for both teams to start the quarter, the Jazz finally hit a couple of free throws, pulling to a 70-67 deficit. But Les made two three-pointers and rookie Duane Causwell tossed in a basket in between to get the Kings started again. Soon the Kings were up 82-69 and the Kings were pulling away.
Later in the period Simmons completed two three-point plays, boosting the Kings to a 94-76 lead.
The Jazz never got closer than 11 points back.
After trailing by as many as 14 points in the first half, Utah struggled back, getting within five points at the break. Jeff Malone's free throw tied the score at 60 in the third period, but the Jazz were unable to get the lead. Les's free throws with a minute to go in the quarter put Sacramento up 66-64, and the win was in sight.
The Kings scored a whopping 46 fourth-quarter points.
GAME NOTES: Jazz guard John Stockton had nine assists to give him 1,004 for the year. That marked his fourth straight 1,000-assist season . . . Utah shot a dismal 38 percent from the floor after shooting 45 percent the previous night . . . The Jazz had won 22 of the last 28 games against the Kings before Thursday's loss.