I think we’re slowly getting back to where we were before the break. —Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell
SALT LAKE CITY — More than anything, there was a sense of relief in the Utah Jazz locker room Saturday night after the team’s 98-91 victory over Sacramento.
It was the second win in two nights for the Jazz, who had beaten Minnesota in a late game at Vivint Arena on Friday as they improved their season record to 33-30. Although it wasn’t a thing of beauty, the Jazz seemed to have put behind their poor play from the first three games after the All-Star break when they lost twice and barely squeezed by Dallas.
In Saturday night’s game, the Jazz jumped out to a double-digit lead early in the second quarter and kept a steady margin most of the night, although they could never put away the pesky Kings, who kept making runs right up until the final minute.
The Jazz have another game against one of the NBA’s bottom feeders Monday night at Vivint Arena when the Orlando Magic pay a visit.
The Magic are one game better than the Kings, thanks to a 107-100 victory over Memphis on Saturday night. And the Magic haven’t acted like a team that is content to wallow at the bottom of the standings in hopes of grabbing a prime draft position next summer.
So the Jazz should be expecting a more competitive game than their game in Orlando back in November when they defeated the Magic 125-85 for their biggest victory of the season.
Before beating Memphis Saturday and Detroit the night before, the Magic had lost seven straight, but the losses came by only an average of seven points.
The Orlando starters are expected to be Jonathon Simmons (13.6 ppg) and Aaron Gordon (18.3 ppg) at forwards, Nikola Vucevic (17.3 ppg) at center and Evan Fournier (18.0 ppg) and D.J. Augustin (9.2 ppg).
In the Sacramento win, the Jazz got still another fine performance from Donovan Mitchell, who followed his 26-point game Friday with a 27-point night as he went 7 for 15 from the field and 10 for 10 from the free-throw line.
The rookie guard came through with two key drives to the basket, one from the right side and one from the left during the final minutes, and clinched it with a pair of free throws with 24 seconds left.
“I think we’re slowly getting back to where we were before the break,” said Mitchell. “I think it’s about ball movement, staying connected with each other. If we can just keep moving the ball and stay connected, we’ll be in good shape.”
The Jazz are still facing an uphill climb in their quest to make the playoffs for the second straight season.,
At 33-30, the Jazz still sit in 10th place in the Western Conference standings and are a game behind the Los Angeles Clippers (33-28 going into Sunday night’s game) and two behind Denver (35-28).
“Every game is big for us,” said Rudy Gobert, who had 16 points and 12 rebounds Saturday. “We just have to take it one game at a time and try to win every game and at the end of the season, see where we’re at.”
JAZZ NOTES: After Monday’s game, the Jazz head out on the road for a three-game trip beginning Wednesday against Indiana. Then they’ll play at Memphis Friday night before going to New Orleans Sunday afternoon. The Jazz have as many back-to-back games as any team in the league with 16 sets. But it hasn’t been much of a problem as they’ve gone 10-4 in the second game of such sets, including Saturday’s win. With his 27 points Saturday, Mitchell became just the third player in NBA history to have 21 games with 25 or more points in his first 60 career games. Only Shaquille O’Neal (27) and Allen Iverson (23) had more. Orlando is playing the first game of a five-game Western road trip that will be followed by a seven-game homestand.