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No fire. No energy. No passion. And the Jazz paid the price.
Looking nothing like the team that burned its way into the Western Conference playoff picture during March, Utah embraced its worst traits Friday during a lackluster 104-103 loss to the Sacramento Kings.
The Jazz couldn't hit what they took. They backed down in the face of toughness. They were outrun, outhustled and outgunned. And it took reserves Alec Burks and Earl Watson just to get Utah going at EnergySolutions Arena before a sellout crowd of 19,911.
By the time the Jazz (27-25) were officially dead on arrival, Utah had nearly wiped clean its locker-room dry-erase board. Before Kings (18-33) forward DeMarcus Cousins dropped a co-game high 27 points and 14 rebounds, the Jazz were inked as just 2 1/2 games out of fourth place in the West with 15 contests to go. Now, Utah's in ninth place, a game behind Houston and Denver, with a tough two-game road trip at the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland waiting.
Friday's forfeit was just one match, and Utah still has 14 left to gain ground and make the playoffs for the first time in two years. But simply qualifying for the postseason during a lockout-shortened campaign is a delicate dance, and the Jazz know it. They also knew they blew it as soon as Al Jefferson's last-second tip-in was ruled off, falling through the net immediately after the backboard glowed red.
"We didn't play Utah Jazz basketball that we have been playing. … We can't blame anybody but ourselves," said Jefferson, who scored 27 points and recorded a game-high 16 rebounds.
Utah can also blame Cousins, who cemented Sacramento's theft via a made free throw with 3.8 seconds left.
Cousins entered the contest saying he could fix any lingering problems stemming from a March 22 staredown with Jazz starting point guard Devin Harris. The 21-year-old chosen No. 5 overall in the 2010 NBA Draft was his normal temperamental self Friday, drawing a technical foul and jawing with Watson before he sank his game-winner.
"I was asking him how he was doing. … He said he was doing fine," Watson said.
Cousins was about to be even better. He bullied Jefferson in the post one game after Boston's Kevin Garnett punked the Jazz and scored four crucial points in the final 2:20.
"It was great," Cousins said. "Especially to come out with a win and have them all go home with a sad face."
After Cousins' free throw, Utah's Gordon Hayward had an open angle along the right side of the lane for the Jazz's final possession. He missed a running three-foot layup, though, and a potential tip-in by Derrick Favors failed to fall.
Favors captured Utah's stunning off night. The second-year power forward was 0 of 13 from the floor (a franchise record for most attempts without a make), washing away 14 rebounds, including nine offensive.
"It's basketball, man. Some days you're going to make shots, some days you're not," Favors said. "I'm a basketball player. I don't worry about all this stat sheet stuff. I go out there to win, man. I leave that up to y'all to worry about stat sheets."
Utah shot just 35.2 percent from the field, 23.1 percent behind the 3-point line and missed 14 of 52 free throws.
The second half was even worse than the first. Again troubled by everything from a zone defense to Sacramento's inside bulk and length, the Jazz hit only 26.8 percent of their field goals and connected on just one of eight 3s.
Utah lost to a Kings team that had dropped four consecutive contests and played without injured starting small forward Tyreke Evans. And a tired Jazz team fell to 1-3 in its last four contests, watching a seven-game home winning streak snapped.
"It's a tough loss," said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin, who was visibly dejected during his postgame interview. "We came out from the beginning and didn't have the energy we thought we would have. We were lethargic and let them hang around. I didn't think we executed our offense like we have been.
"Give Sacramento credit. They laid it out there. They are an aggressive team and they won the ballgame."
Harris only played 19:58 for the Jazz and didn't return to the game after leaving with 3:50 left in the third quarter. "[Watson] was going good and he was pushing the ball down the floor," Corbin said. … Former Brigham Young University guard Jimmer Fredette scored four points on 2-of-6 shooting in 16:07. … Utah guard Raja Bell (left knee) has recently explored less-invasive surgery options in the hope of returning to the team as soon as possible. … Cousins left the game late during the third quarter to receive stitches under his left eyebrow.
R Gordon Hayward misses a running layup with 3 seconds to go.
Jazz at Clippers
P 8:30 p.m., Saturday
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM
Records • Jazz 27-25, Clippers 30-21
Last meeting • Clippers, 107-105 (Feb. 1)
About the Jazz • Utah entered Friday ranked third out of 30 teams in average offensive rebounds (12.9), fourth in blocks (5.78) and fifth in fast-break points (16.7), while Paul Millsap was fifth in steals (1.82). … The Jazz only have 12 active players with Josh Howard and Raja Bell out due to injuries.
About the Clippers • Los Angeles defeated Portland 98-97 Friday. … Including Friday, the Clippers have won four consecutive games. … Blake Griffin tops the Clippers in scoring (21) and rebounds (10.8), while Chris Paul leads the team in assists (8.8) and steals (2.4).