Houston • At the beginning of November, the Jazz faced an intimidating schedule with guarded enthusiasm. Twelve of their first 18 games would be on the road, and they embraced it as an opportunity to make an early statement about the kind of team they would be.
That brutal stretch is finally behind them after another rally fell short Saturday, this time in a 124-116 loss to the Houston Rockets in front of 14,432 at the Toyota Center. The Jazz (9-9) have aged in the past month.
They’re tempestuous and tormented. Missed opportunities litter the cities where they’ve traveled like bread crumbs, left behind as they faltered first in New Orleans then Memphis and withered down the stretch in Boston; as they overcame large deficits only to fall behind anew in San Antonio, Philadelphia and Oklahoma City.
“I thought we were in several games that we didn’t finish,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said.
Add one more to that list.
Saturday the Jazz, playing without Marvin Williams and Derrick Favors, twice came back from 10-point deficits to take the lead or tie the game against the Rockets (8-8). The Jazz went on a 12-2 run in the fourth quarter behind a group that included rarely-used players Alec Burks and Jeremy Evans, tying the game at 107 on a 3-pointer by Randy Foye with 5:38 remaining.
However, the Rockets closed the game on a 17-9 run, including — at one point — an 11-4 run that put the game out of reach.
It was merely a continuation of the theme of the game: The Rockets shot 55.4 percent from the field, negating the Jazz’s own impressive effort, in which they shot 51.1 percent and made 11 of 20 3-pointers.
“I feel that we’re a better defensive team than we showed,” Burks said.
However, for the second night in a row, the game swung on what the Jazz considered to be a missed call by the referees.
In Friday’s 106-94 loss in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook stole the ball from behind Earl Watson and Tyrone Corbin received a technical foul arguing for a foul.
Saturday, on the second end of the back-to-back, the play came with the game tied at 107 with 4:36 remaining. A pass by Mo Williams appeared to be deflected by Houston point guard Jeremy Lin’s foot. However, the play was allowed to continue and Williams, bewildered by the absence of a kicked ball call, intentionally fouled Lin to stop the play and argue. The play led to two free throws for Lin and kicked off Houston’s final run.
“I thought he kicked it, also,” Corbin said. “The foul was a little premature. We’d have liked to come down at that point and maybe just make him make a play.”
Gordon Hayward carried the Jazz for much of the second half, scoring 11 of his game-high 21 points in the third quarter. The Jazz opened the period on a 13-4 run to tie the game at 62. They scored 37 points in the quarter and took an 86-85 lead into the final 12 minutes.
But once again, as he has been so many times over the past 18 games, Corbin said was left to talk about the lessons learned.
“We have to be able to finish games off,” he said. “I think this experience will prove valuable if we learn our lessons from it.”
In five of the nine losses, the Jazz have either been tied or led in the fourth quarter. At some point, a treacherous piece of scheduling becomes as much about surviving as it does excelling. Five of the Jazz’s next seven games are at home.
If they win all of them, their record will not reflect that of a struggling team, as the mood around the Jazz Saturday night might suggest.
“I felt as though we gave a couple away,” guard Randy Foye said. “At 9-9 I wouldn’t say that I’m satisfied, but I’m pretty happy.”
Rockets 124, Jazz 116
R The Jazz lose back-to-back games to fall to 9-9.
• Gordon Hayward leads the Jazz with 21 points, while Randy Foye and Al Jefferson each add 20.