On their last visit to Sacramento, the Jazz hit rock bottom.
DeMarcus Cousins had 22 points and 18 rebounds, rookie point guard Isaiah Thomas scored 18 points and the Kings rallied for a 103-96 victory.
The loss left Utah with a 15-18 record and looking more like a lottery team than one with playoff aspirations.
In 22 days, however, things have changed.
Heading onto Thursday night’s rematch, the Jazz have won nine of their last 13 games, including four straight.
They come off a 97-90 victory over Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City which, almost unbelievably, moved them within 2 1/2 games of home-court advantage in a first-round playoff series.
Asked if the recent hot streak “validated” the Jazz as a playoff team, coach Tyrone Corbin shrugged.
“We’re getting better,” he said. “Whether it validates where we are going, I don’t know. But it certainly validates where we can [go] if we continue to get better and understand the things we need to do every night we step on the floor.”
The Jazz’s success has been highlighted by improved defense.
In wins over the Lakers and Thunder, the Jazz limited Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant to 9-for-42 shooting, combined.
Durant, second in the league in scoring behind Bryant, was 0-for-7 in the fourth quarter.
“[Our] team has shown it can score,” Corbin said. “We have to stop people. … You have to make timely stops in key situations and we’ve done that of late.”
Howard to have surgery
After receiving a second opinion about his injured left knee, veteran forward Josh Howard still plans to undergo surgery.
Howard likely will have an arthroscopic-type procedure Thursday.
If the surgery goes as planned, Howard could begin rehab on a stationary bike next week. He might return for the end of the regular season, if there are no setbacks in his recovery.
If Howard doesn’t return before the season finale against Portland on April 26 and the Jazz qualify for the postseason, he plans to be ready for the first round of the playoffs.
“We wish Josh well and hope everything goes as well as it can go,” Corbin said.
Raja Bell, who has been sidelined with an adductor strain, is “hoping” to play against Sacramento. … Earl Watson (sprained ankle) expects to return Friday against Denver.