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Kings ‘reign’ on Jazz

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SACRAMENTO — A 33-point loss, their biggest of the season. Largest loss margin ever against Sacramento. Got down in the second quarter and never did come close to getting back in it.

After falling 113-80 to the NBA-leading Kings on Thursday night, the fading-fast Jazz had to be thinking it couldn't get much worse than that.

But it can: Utah must face Sacramento three more times this season, including Saturday's rematch at the Delta Center.

That's cold reality for a 22-21 club that's dropped four of its last five overall, mustered only one win in a total of 10 games against the Western Conference's five top teams and just got its tail kicked.

"Games like this, teams like this we play, show us how far we have to go," said point guard John Stockton, who nevertheless maintains faith that the Jazz can be a much better team than their barely above-.500 record indicates.

"We're a long ways away," Stockton added. "So you can either put your head down in the dirt, throw your arms up and say 'that's it,' or you see what we can do to try to get to that level. Clearly, we're not there yet."

Clearly.

In fact, the Jazz were so far from keeping up with the Kings on Thursday that they didn't seem to be seeing straight by game's end. But Jazz coach Jerry Sloan had a quite a clear view of what unfolded, and he certainly was not pleased with what he saw.

"We didn't compete very much tonight in the ballgame, and we've had stretches where we can't compete at all," Sloan said. "And you don't have much of a chance when you play that way."

Especially not against the Kings, who now own a league-best home record of 24-1, including 17 straight Arco Arena wins. Sacramento has won 13 of its last 14 overall.

"With this team, and as good as they are," Sloan said, "I'm not sure we could have competed against their second group. Their second group would have beaten us by 20."

The Jazz, featuring a new-look starting lineup with John Starks at shooting guard in place of second-season pro DeShawn Stevenson and fellow veteran Bryon Russell at small forward over rookie Andrei Kirilenko, did briefly appear as if they were going to give the Kings a game.

But as soon as Sacramento began to pull away from an 18-18 tie in the final two minutes of the opening quarter, it was all over for Utah.

The Kings opened the second-period with a 13-2 run, putting them up by 16 after 39-23. Sloan put Jazz scoring leader Karl Malone back in the game at that point, but it didn't matter.

Utah had no answers whatsoever for Sacramento, and before the Jazz knew it they were down by 21 late in the first half.

It only got uglier for them after that.

The Kings ran their advantage to as many as 29 in the third quarter, and the Jazz seemed content to let them do it.

Sloan subbed Stevenson for Stockton with just more than five minutes to go in the third, and he replaced Malone — whose 14 points stood up as a team-high, accentuating just how bad things were for the Jazz — with Greg Ostertag with just under two minutes remaining in the period.

Neither of the Jazz stars ever did return for the final quarter, a period which all of Sacramento's starters watched from the bench.

Even the Kings' subs had their way, too, outscoring Utah 27-21 in the fourth.

By game's end, Sacramento was simply rubbing its success in the Jazz's face, evidenced by two uncontested 3-pointers from Bobby Jackson in the game's final minute, and a buzzer-beating Lawrence Funderburke dunk, set up with a teasing toss from Jackson, that pushed the final margin to a game-high 33.

"To me," Stevenson said, "that's kind of like disrespecting us."

Sloan, however, wasn't even sure if everyone from Utah was bothered by the antics, or even the loss.

"That's not going to get your attention — because they came in there and took it right to us," he said. "And if you don't want to play basketball, nothing's going to get your attention.

"These guys," Sloan added of his own, "weren't willing to play, and weren't ready to play, basketball."


E-MAIL: tbuckley@desnews.com