Game Day: Utah Jazz at Sacramento Kings (2/28/12)
By Kate Hedlin
Posted Feb 28 2012 4:31PM
After a surprising start, the Utah Jazz went into the All-Star break having fallen to last place in the Northwest Division.
They'll look to snap a three-game losing streak - and improve their atrocious road record - when they visit the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night.
Utah opened the season with three losses in its first four games, but impressively won eight of nine to turn things around.
However, the Jazz (15-17) fell back under .500 before the break after losing 10 of 13, including three straight heading into the break.
A 100-98 loss at Minnesota on Wednesday was especially discouraging. Paul Millsap scored 25 points - his most in 16 games - but Utah blew a 16-point fourth-quarter lead before losing on Luke Ridnour's buzzer-beater.
That loss dropped the Jazz to 3-11 on the road, the worst record among the league's 22 teams currently within three games of a playoff spot.
It was the third straight contest they failed to protect a second-half lead. Utah led by 10 in the third quarter against San Antonio before falling 106-102 on Feb. 20, a night after watching a one-point halftime lead in Houston turn into a 16-point loss.
"It's disheartening to us, but you have to learn through it," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We play well enough to win these games, but we have to learn how to finish. It's real painful now and it should hurt. Coming out of the All-Star break we have to learn our lessons so we don't make these mistakes."
The inability to protect leads was hurt by the Jazz's struggles to defend beyond the arc. In the last three games, opponents connected on 31 of 62 shots from 3-point range.
Prior to that stretch, the Jazz were third in the league in 3-point defense (31.3 percent).
After stumbling into the break, Utah will try to bounce back against the Kings (11-22), who beat Washington 115-107 on Wednesday to snap a six-game losing streak.
The victory came in the finale of a six-game road trip. Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans scored 22 points apiece, DeMarcus Cousins had 16 points and 16 rebounds and Sacramento came from 10 down in the second half.
Cousins finished the first half strong after opening the season by drawing the ire of former coach Paul Westphal, who was fired in early January.
Cousins has averaged 19.9 points and 11.0 rebounds over his last seven games, though he's shot 30.0 percent over his past three.
Even with the occasional inconsistency on the court, coach Keith Smart has been pleased with Cousins' improved maturity, citing his willingness to stay on the bench late during the comeback against the Wizards.
"I was getting ready to put Cousins back in and he said 'Let Chuck Hayes stay in the game,'" Smart said. "That's gigantic for him. Tyreke Evans had a fabulous first half, came out of the game, didn't play in the fourth quarter and simply cheered his teammates on.
"That's the growth I'm trying for our team to have if we're ever going to have a chance to be good and turn our franchise around."
Evans had a season-high 31 points and nine assists in a 96-93 loss in Utah on Jan. 28. His 24.0 career points per game against the Jazz are his most versus any opponent.
Sacramento has dropped four of the past five meetings in the series.
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