Kings assume spoiler role facing Jazz

Kings assume spoiler role facing Jazz
March 22, 2012, 10:03 pm
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The Utah Jazz were at their lowest point of the season when they left Sacramento last month.

The Jazz could be back in the Western Conference playoff picture with a victory in this visit to California's capital, but knocking off the resurgent Kings could be a challenge.

Utah goes for a season high-tying fifth consecutive win Thursday night when the Kings try to close out the franchise's longest homestand with a fourth straight victory.

Arriving in Sacramento with just three victories in 13 games, the Jazz (24-22) dropped their season-high fourth in a row Feb. 28, losing 103-96 to fall a season-worst three games below .500.

Utah, though, is on a roll heading into this contest, with its last two victories coming over the West's elite. After winning 103-99 at the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, the Jazz beat conference-leading Oklahoma City 97-90 at home Tuesday.

"It's all about confidence right now," said Al Jefferson, who had 16 points after missing the previous two games to attend his grandmother's funeral.

If Utah can match a 5-0 run from Jan. 2-10 and Houston loses to Golden State earlier Thursday, the Jazz will hold the eighth spot in the West. They were 2 12 games out of the conference's final playoff position following the Feb. 28 defeat.

"We should be very confident right now," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We're understanding that we need to count on each other, especially at the defensive end of the floor and depending on each other to make the right plays."

The Jazz are holding opponents to 96.5 points on 43.0 percent shooting during their current run, but slowing down the Kings (17-29) could be difficult.

Led by Marcus Thornton's 30.3 points per game, Sacramento is averaging 118.0 during its three-game winning streak.

More importantly, it appears the Kings are getting along as well as they have all season. Coach Keith Smart has a rule that any player out with an injury doesn't lose his spot, but Tyreke Evans - who was ready to return after missing two games with a sprained left ankle - requested prior to Tuesday's 119-110 win over Memphis that John Salmons stay in the starting lineup.

"They're starting to like each other," said Smart, whose team will try to win four straight at home for the first time since Nov. 25-Dec. 2, 2009. "And they're getting closer to that other 'L' word."

It's unclear if Evans will come off the bench again Thursday, but Smart will want to make sure to give him plenty of minutes. Evans had a season-high 31 points in a 96-93 loss in Salt Lake City on Jan. 28, and his 22.6 average versus Utah is his highest against any team.

Kings center DeMarcus Cousins scored 22 points with 18 rebounds on Feb. 28 and is averaging 21.3 points and 13.7 boards in three home games against Utah.

The Jazz, who open a stretch of 11 of 17 outside Utah, have the second-fewest road wins (six) in the West, ahead of only Sacramento's four.

The Kings are trying to win two straight in this series for the first time since 2006-07.

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