Just to add a little more meaning to the latest Most Important Week of the Season, the Jazz trailed from start to finish in losing to Sacramento Saturday night in Arco Arena.
In a 117-97 victory, the all-new Kings did their Knicks impression by hitting 11 three-pointers, while the Bobby Hansen-Darrell Griffith Shooting Derby continued and the Jazz kept Houston and Denver in the Midwest Division race as April arrived."We didn't do a very good job of defending them," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan.
"We were outhustled, and that's the bottom line," noted John Stockton.
The story of this game was told early in the fourth quarter. Never able to make a genuine run, the Jazz did cut the lead to five on Thurl Bailey's two free throws. Danny Ainge answered with a driving layup and Ricky Berry hit two free throws after Bailey missed a hook, and the Jazz were done.
Berry had six 3-pointers and 33 points for the Kings, Kenny Smith added 24 and Ainge had 18 points and a season-high 13 assists. Karl Malone led the Jazz with 27 points, while Bailey had 23 and Stockton had 22 points and 13 assists.
On the unglamorous side of the boxscore, Hansen was 2 of 6 while missing more layups and Griffith was 2 of 9. Two-game totals: Hansen 3 of 16, Griffith 2 of 13.
Is it too late to trade for Ainge?
Sloan spent most of the 100-second timeout between the third and fourth quarters chewing out Hansen - not for missing shots, but for not shaking off the misses and running back on defense. "I was more concerned about what was happening to us defensively," Sloan noted later.
While the Kings' trading frenzy left them with no true center, the Jazz had trouble with matchups. Mark Eaton had zero points and two rebounds in 27 minutes, while Kings of all sizes were shooting threes.
"They feel comfortable out there," noted Griffith, the former 3-point king who's gone eight games without making one. "They have the green light, and that does a lot for your confidence."
The Jazz still lead Houston by 4 1/2 games and Denver by five, but the Midwest race is still on with three weeks left. This week, the Jazz come home to play Dallas Tuesday, followed by a big game Wednesday at Phoenix that could decide second place in the Western Conference. After that, they play the Lakers and Denver on the road.
That's why this loss hurt.
Afterward, Sloan was wondering about the Jazz's effort. "I was beginning to question it just a little bit, because I thought we were lackadaisical."
Could the Detroit Effect have lasted three more days? All season, the Jazz have bounced back from tough defeats. This was the latest test, coming after Wednesday's draining double-overtime loss to Detroit. "It was a disappointing loss in that so much energy was expended in doing it," noted Stockton. "A lot of things made it an important game, but it was no more difficult to shake than another loss."
Sloan, meanwhile, knew better. "Those are hard games sometimes to come back after and get yourself pumped up," he said after losing big to the Kings.
Whatever the reason, the Jazz certainly seemed lifeless in the first quarter and trailed 29-18. They went almost four minutes without a basket before Malone scored inside, and continued to struggle against the Kings' trapping defense.
With their new run-and-shoot look, meanwhile, the Kings were relentless. One memorable sequence: Smith made a three-pointer and a layup from a long Ainge pass, after Stockton and Bailey both had shots blocked and Bailey saved the ball in bounds to Ainge.
In three November-December losses to the Jazz, the Kings shot a combined .302 from the field. Since then, they've added five new players - with Ainge and Wayman Tisdale arriving via major trades.
Obviously, they shot better Saturday (.477) with absolutely nothing holding them back from long-range bombing. The Kings kept shooting the Jazz in and back out of the game in the second quarter. Their missed shots gave life to the Jazz fast break and the Jazz cut the lead to two on a Stockton free throw - only to have the Kings start hitting again.
Harold Pressley's back-to-back 3-pointers quickly restored the lead and Berry added two more threes before the half ended, keeping the Kings up by 56-47. Sacramento made 6 of 14 three-pointers in the half and 11 of 26 for the game.
Bailey made an unusual second-half start as Sloan went with his scorers, but they were unable to cut into the lead. The Jazz were down by five after a Stockton steal led to a Malone dunk and had a breakaway opening, but Malone traveled in backckourt. When Smith buried a jumper, the Kings had answered the threat.
Indeed, threatening was about all the Jazz were good for in this game. Starting with a Mike Brown dunk, they put some heat on the Kings early in the fourth quarter, but came no closer than five points.
"I think that we're on the right track," said Kings Coach Jerry Reynolds.
JAZZ NOTES: Coming off the second scoreless game of his career, Griffith made an early free throw but missed his first five shots before scoring on a dunk and a drive in the third quarter . . . Assistant coach Phil Johnson had faced the Kings once in the Salt Palace since joining the Jazz Dec. 11, but this was his official return visit to Arco Arena.