Reggie Theus, the new coach of the Sacramento Kings, knew going into Monday's game that it was going to be an uphill battle
After all, his best player, Ron Artest, was serving the final game of an NBA-imposed seven-game suspension. If that wasn't bad enough, his veteran point guard, Mike Bibby, was out recovering from surgery on his thumb. And then the Kings' best big man, center Brad Miller, was a late scratch with a right quad contusion.
So the 117-93 Kings loss to the Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena seemed like an inevitability. In fact, Sacramento's cutting the 23-point halftime lead down to 10 points in the third period was almost a moral victory.
"I told our guys at halftime that we could cut it to 10 in the third quarter and they got it done," said Theus. "Anything can happen at that point."
What happened, however, is that the Jazz took back control and cruised to their fourth consecutive win.
"We ran out of gas," said Theus. "They played hard to get it down to 10. The Jazz team plays with so much savvy. ... The guys played hard and got it down to 10, and tonight that was the best they could do."
The loss drops the Kings to 2-5 on the year. Afterward, Sacramento's coach and players had nothing but compliments for the Jazz.
The Jazz "just play basketball the way basketball is supposed to be played and you have to respect that," said Theus.
The Jazz "have a good inside-outside game," added forward John Salmons, who scored a team-high 22 points for the Kings. "You mix in there Andrei Kirilenko and how versatile he is being able to do everything on the court pretty much. They're pretty close (to having the best frontcourt in the NBA)."
Ex-Jazzman Mikki Moore knows his Kings team was undermanned without Artest, Bibby and Miller. Still, he doesn't like to use that as an excuse for the team's early losing ways.
"All of us are getting paid to play," said Moore. "We can't sit here and worry about spoiled milk because we have our top players out of our roster right now. We just have to go out there and grind it out and play as a unit."
While it may have been his fifth loss in seven games as an NBA head coach, Theus, the former New Mexico State coach, saw a silver lining from Monday's game.
"We were playing against a very good basketball team," said Theus. "I mean, listen, they score that many points against everyone. There is no shame in that. ... We're not just playing for tonight. We're playing for two weeks from now or a couple of months from now when we get all our horses back."Until then, the Kings may have to be dethroned a few times.