There was a time when a struggling team could at least look the schedule, see Sacramento up next, and breathe a sigh of relief at the respite to come.
Those days are gone.
The Kings’ continued improvement combined with the Jazz’s persistent funk equaled a 119-110 home loss on Wednesday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena that dropped Utah to 8-10 overall this season.
With the Jazz’s defensive efficacy and intensity in question after a 27-point blowout in Indiana on Monday to close a five-game road trip, the start to the follow-up against the Kings could hardly have been more discouraging.
Sacramento made 10 of its first 14 shots from the field — 71.4 percent — to race out (sometimes literally) to a 25-11 lead.
And while Utah did respond with an 8-0 run to close the gap, yet another example of a low-energy start yielding an early deficit to be rallied back from proved especially costly.
The Kings ended up closing the quarter with an 11-point advantage, thanks to 53.8 percent shooting compared to the Jazz’s 33.3. (The Kings finished the game shooting 52.8 percent overall.)
“It starts with us five [in the starting lineup] — we haven’t done a great job of that all year. We kinda come out slow. And it’s easy to say it’s early, but nah — we gotta pick it up. All of us,” said guard Donovan Mitchell. “That can’t happen. We can’t keep trying to come back every game. You’re gonna run into games like this where you can’t.”
The energy and efficiency were at least better for much of the second quarter. With crisper passing on offense and better rotations on defense, the Jazz closed the deficit to within three points on multiple occasions, though they could draw no closer and went into halftime down 60-54.
A 2-for-15 effort from deep in the first half (13.3 percent) raised the possibility that Utah’s luggage containing all of its long-range shooting was was lost in transit somewhere between Indianapolis and Salt Lake City.
It apparently was delivered just prior to the start of the third quarter, however.
The Jazz made more 3s in the first six minutes of the third quarter (three) than they had in the preceding 24 minutes of action. They finished with five in the frame overall.
A Derrick Favors putback of a missed Mitchell longball just before the quarter’s final horn drew the Jazz to within 84-83, setting up a pivotal final period.
The fourth quarter, though, greatly resembled the second, in that the Jazz continually would close the gap, only to fail to finally get over the hump.
An 8-0 Kings run extended Sacramento’s lead to 97-87 with 6:22 left. An 8-1 run over the next minute and a half pushed the advantage to 105-88 and effectively ended the game.
“You scratch and claw to try to get back,” said coach Quin Snyder. “We didn’t play well, but we hung in there. And then late, we couldn’t get stops when we needed to.”
A 18-5 response by Utah fired up the home faithful, and trimmed the deficit to as few as four points, but ultimately proved just a bit too little and just a bit too late — especially when a Sacramento offensive rebound led to a layup-and-one by Nemanja Bijelica that sealed the deal for good.
Mitchell, who was held to a season-low seven points against the Pacers, bounced back against the Kings, shooting 13 for 23 overall for 35 points, but he was more concerned with the things he didn’t do.
“I should have grabbed the defensive rebound, and then they got a layup — just a few mishaps. They won the 50-50 balls, and that’s the story of the game,” he said. “… Everybody was standing watching. That’s how they got that offensive rebound at the end of the game, that’s why we lost.”
Rudy Gobert contributed another double-double, totaling 13 points and 15 rebounds. And Ricky Rubio, who had a first half to forget, with zero points on 0-for-6 shooting, bounced back post-halftime to finish with 13 points and seven assists. Jae Crowder, meanwhile, contributed 16 points off the bench.
Sacramento big man Willie Cauley-Stein had his second straight strong game against the Jazz, scoring 23 points on 11-for-15 shooting. Second-year guard De’Aaron Fox contributed 17 points and 13 assists.
The Jazz now play five of their next six games on the road. They fly out on Thanksgiving for a Friday game in Los Angeles vs. the LeBron James-led Lakers. Then, on Sunday, they’ll be in Sacramento for a third matchup this season with the Kings. After a home tilt with the Pacers on Monday, the Jazz will head out for a three-game Eastern swing, starting next Wednesday in Brooklyn.
In the meantime, Gobert said it’s not too late for the Jazz to improve. He vowed to lead the way, with effort and example.
“It’s about us, and whether it’s Game 12 or Game 25 or Game 80, we have to get better. We have to figure it out,” he said. “There’s nothing to overthink. It starts with me, and then once I do what I have to do, I think the team’s gonna follow.”