With the pressure of making history off their backs, the Sacramento Kings paid a loosey-goosey visit to the Salt Palace Tuesday night, and you could tell right away they were feeling no pressure. Worries? Nah. Antoine Carr, who was going to the hoop like there is no tomorrow - which for the Kings, there isn't - pumped in a game-high 35 points. Rick Calloway and Bill Wennington, as unfamaliar names as you'll find, were having one of their best nights of the season.
When you've got 79 games down and three to go before summer vacation, what're you waiting for?On the other hand, there are the Utah Jazz, who also have three games left, following their 111-101 victory over the Kings. They are still scratching their way toward the finish and hoping someone can derail the San Antonio Spurs. They don't have the luxury of experimenting or being carefree. Trailing the Spurs by one game in the Midwest Division, every shot, every turnover could have long-lasting impact.
"That's another team that we're playing with nothing to lose," said Jazz forward Karl Malone. "That's another team that's got nothing to worry about. All they've got to do is come out and play. Three or four more games left in the season, all they've gotta do is go and let it all hang out."
Whatever pressure the Kings were under probably went out the window on Monday night, as they dropped a 112-94 decision to Minnesota. The loss, Sacramento's 35th straight on the road, broke an all-time NBA record for futility. "My mom always told me to be the very best at whatever I did," quipped reserve center Wennington. "Well, we've been very good at being bad."
Following their 36th loss, at Salt Lake, their record dropped to 1-39 on the road this season.
Although the Jazz didn't exactlyoverwhelm the Kings (Since when have they overwhelmed anyone?), that was largely due to a good effort by the visitors. The Kings shot a respectable 51.2 percent and committed only 10 turnovers. They managed to hold Jazz stars Karl and Jeff Malone to 28 and 26 points respectively.
Had it not been for a fine performance by guard John Stockton - 21 points, 16 assists, five rebounds, one block - the Jazz would have been in serious trouble. "They let us hang in there with them," said Sacramento Coach Dick Motta.
In the third quarter, when Sacramento had taken the lead on three straight baskets, Stockton drove around Roy Sparrow for a layup basket, also drawing a free throw that put the Jazz ahead 65-64. Next time down the court he went around Jim Les for a basket, drawing another foul (which he missed). He then looped a spectacular overhand pass to the Mailman for a basket with 4:36 left in the third period, giving Utah a 69-64 lead.
Although the Kings stayed close, they weren't up to stopping the Malone's. Jeff scored nine points and Karl eight in the third period, with Karl's last points of the period coming on a three-point shot at the buzzer.
In the final quarter, the Jazz stretched their lead to 12 points. Thurl Bailey, who came off the bench to score 18 points, got eight of them in the last period. Two of them came on a turnaround jumper that put Utah up 93-81 with 8:33 to go.
Sacramento never got closer than a six-point deficit.
The closing moments held no suspense, except when the Mailman went up for a rebound and came down holding his right hand and grimacing. After a timeout, he returned to the court. Though Malone said it was only a bruised hand, it has continued to bother him for several weeks.
Another notable moment came in the first half, when Darrell Griffith made his first appearance after sitting out the last six games. Griffith received an appreciative round of applause, but never produced much to cheer about. He finished 0-for-4 from the field in nine minutes.
Wennington and Calloway finished with 14 and 13 points, respectively, for the Kings.
The Jazz, who have now met non-playoff teams Denver, Orlando, Dallas and the L.A. Clippers in the last two weeks, played better than they have recently. But they're still nothing to write the Commissioner about.
"Sacramento shot well, so that's why they hung around," said Jeff Malone. "We picked it up a little, but we're still not a whole lot better."
He, too, noticed the Kings weren't feeling any qualms about playing loose and free, having been eliminated from playoff contention weeks ago. "People say we're supposed to win and you want to go in and just blow them out. You tend to get too anxious," continued Malone. "They were totally free and relaxed."
As free and relaxed as you should be when you have three more games before springing free for the summer.
GAME NOTES: John Stockton's 16 assists put him 10 away from breaking his own NBA record 1,134 for the season. His 1,125 assists this year is the third-most ever in an NBA season. He also holds the records for first and second-most assists in a season . . . Sacramento rookie Lionel Simmons and guard Bob Hansen were both out with injuries . . . Kings' guard Jim Les leads the NBA in three-point field goal percentage.