Jazz face Kings looking to regain winning edge
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- To hear the Utah Jazz tell it, the All-Star break couldn't have come at a worse time, even if it did seem like it took forever to get there.
"The biggest thing for us," Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell told the Salt Lake Tribune earlier this week, "is we have to get back to the way we we've been playing before the break. ... We haven't been the same team."
Getting back to that form could be a tall order. Just before the break, the Jazz won 11 straight contests and vaulted themselves into the heat of the Western Conference chase. And they showed flashes of that form Friday in a 116-108 home win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, during which Mitchell scored 26.
On Friday, Utah plays the Sacramento Kings at the Golden 1 Center, a contest that figures to offer the Jazz an opponent and a venue that could be conducive to getting them back on a winning streak.
The Kings are enjoying the rare experience of coming off a home victory. Sacramento's 116-111 overtime victory over the Brooklyn Nets ended a four-game home losing streak and a five-game skid overall. It also marked only its second victory on the home floor in their past 11 tries, and just their ninth home win all season.
They'll try to post consecutive wins at home for the first time since November and likely will have to do so without center Willie Cauley-Stein (back strain), who listed as doubtful.
Rookie De'Aaron Fox helped lead the win over Brooklyn with 21 points, only the third time all season he's reached 20. He's also averaging 5.0 assists per game in four contests since the break. Fellow rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic added 23 points against the Nets, his second-highest scoring total of the season, and is shooting 45 percent from 3-point range since play resumed.
"I feel like we're both point guards on the floor," Fox told NBC Sports California. "He's 6-foot-6, but he can play the one. It feels like you have two point guards."
The Jazz (32-30) beat the Kings 120-105 in Sacramento on Jan. 17 to start a 13-2 run that included their 11-game roll and vaulted them back into the playoff race. They will go into Saturday's contest two games behind Denver for the final berth in the Western Conference.
The three-day break Utah enjoyed before Friday's contest marked their longest in a month, and Utah used it to practice twice. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the Jazz concentrated on film session and game planning how to use Jae Crowder, acquired from the Cleveland Cavlaiers at the deadline.
"It's something we have to take advantage of for sure," Mitchell told the Tribune.
Mitchell is coming off Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors in February, the third time he's won that award this season. He averaged 21.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists, and scored 19.4 points per game during the long winning streak.
The Jazz would be smart to get guard Joe Ingles rolling again. Ingles averaged nearly 16 points a game and shot 54 percent from 3-point range during Utah's winning streak. He's managed just 41 points in four games since that streak ended.
Updated March 3, 2018