This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The board showed movement.
A list of the Western Conference playoff standings appeared in the Jazz's locker room earlier this week. The top eight teams and the rest of the contenders are penned in black, Utah in red.
After fighting back and eventually outlasting the Sacramento Kings in overtime on Saturday, the Jazz finally took a step forward.
Led by Al Jefferson's 27 points including six during the extra period Utah downed Sacramento 109-102 before a sellout crowd of 19,911 at EnergySolutions Arena.
It was the Jazz's (33-30) first home win in eight attempts, snapping a seven-game losing streak that dated back to Jerry Sloan's tenure and marking the team's longest home-court drought since 1982.
Utah didn't just find a little life by finally edging a severely short-handed Kings (15-45) team that performed without several key players and was carried by rookie forward DeMarcus Cousins' 18 points and game-high 18 rebounds. The Jazz received a much-needed confidence boost before entering a run of seven road games in nine contests that could define the team's shaky season and cement Utah's flickering playoff hopes.
By the time Jefferson had finished pounding away and barking late-game commands Saturday, the Jazz had moved up on the dry-erase board. Utah still sat in 10th place in the conference. But the Jazz were just a half-game behind ninth-place Phoenix. And while some teams would shrink from the pressure, Utah guard C.J. Miles said coach Tyrone Corbin and his staff were sending a different message: Bring it.
Some have already counted the Jazz out, while many question whether a rebuilding team still adjusting to the departures of Sloan and All-Star guard Deron Williams has a real chance in the postseason. To Miles, the only opinions that matter belong to those who truly represent his team the players and coaches who now eye the playoff board daily.
"I think it creates a sense of urgency," Miles said. "Guys see it, and they're like, 'We have to win tonight.' … We haven't been able to close some games out. But you can see it in the energy in the games we play."
Utah struggled to clip the Kings, and poor late-game execution nearly killed the Jazz's chances for the third-consecutive contest.
Leading 67-61 midway through the third quarter, the Jazz lost starting power forward Paul Millsap to an injury.
Sacramento quickly turned Utah's loss into an advantage, closing the period on an 11-5 run and tying the game at 72 heading into the final quarter.
The Kings didn't slow down.
Marcus Thornton scored seven of Sacramento's first nine points during the fourth, as his team temporarily outworked and outshot the Jazz. The Kings' lead then swelled to 83-74 after Cousins slammed home a putback dunk with 8 minutes, 41 seconds to go.
Utah fought back to take a 95-92 lead. But the Jazz had been burned during recent home losses to Boston and Denver by deadly late-game perimeter shooting, and Thornton continued the trend Saturday, stepping back to nail a 3 from the left wing with 14 seconds to go and send the game into overtime.
"We leave a 3-point guy for a 3-point shot the only thing that can hurt you the most is a 3-point shot," Corbin said.
Utah then fell behind 98-95 to start the extra period. But the Jazz soon began riding Jefferson, while feeding off the increased energy and teamwork that has impressed Corbin since he took over for Sloan on Feb. 11.
Utah is nowhere close to playing perfect ball, and everything from the team's on-the-court execution to Corbin's rotation are still up in the air. But the Jazz are still fighting as the playoffs approach, and that has Utah's coach holding his head high.
"It is what it is," Corbin said. "You've got to lay it out there."
Briefly • Millsap left the game with 10 minutes left during the third quarter due to a sore left patellar tendon. He initially retreated to the locker room and changed a knee brace. After returning for 1:21 of action, Millsap again walked off the court and didn't return. … Jazz reserve center Kyrylo Fesenko (lower back spasms) left the game in the fourth quarter and was also unable to return. … Millsap, Fesenko and Andrei Kirilenko (back spasms) will be game-time decisions Monday at New York.
W L Pct GB
d-San Antonio 51 11 .823
Dallas 45 16 .738 5½
d-L.A. Lakers 44 19 .698 7½
d-Oklahoma City 38 22 .633 12
Denver 37 27 .578 15
Portland 35 27 .565 16
New Orleans 36 28 .563 16
Memphis 34 29 .540 17½
Phoenix 32 28 .533 18
Utah 33 30 .524 18½