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Kings kong Jazz

Utah is no match for Sacramento — again

The rematch leaves no doubt.

Sacramento confirmed Saturday what it proved Thursday, and that is this: The Jazz are in a different stratosphere as teams like the Kings, and it isn't exactly a better one.

In other words, after losing 114-90 to Sacramento at the Delta Center just two days after it fell 113-80 to the Kings at Arco Arena, Utah is in a world of hurt.

Just how bad?

Ten losses in 11 games this season against the top five teams in the NBA's Western Conference. Five losses in six games overall, including a season-worst losing streak of three in a row. Two losses in two days by a combined 57 points to what is, granted, the hottest, and best, team in the league these days.

Oh, it's bad all right. Very bad.

"We have a difficult time whenever we try to play the game right now," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, whose club is back to .500 at 22-22. "Especially (against) a team like (the Kings). Well, just about anybody. It doesn't make any difference right now, the way we're struggling the way we are.

"We have not had tough times like this for a long, long time," Sloan added. "Nobody has seen this kind of tough times for us."

Well, maybe there are a couple.

Thirty-nine-year-old point guard John Stockton was a rookie in the 1984-85 season, when the Jazz, headed in a different direction back then, stood 19-25 after 44 games. They wound up 41-41 — the last time the franchise failed to have a winning regular season.

Thirty-eight-year-old power forward Karl Malone was a rookie in 1985-86, when the Jazz were 21-23 after 44 games and barely finished above .500 at 42-40.

So trust those two when they say what they do. It's what everyone saw for themselves Saturday: The Jazz don't have it together, and when they play like they have against Sacramento these last two games they don't stand a chance.

"They play with so much confidence," Stockton said of the Kings, who are a league-best 33-10 with 14 wins in their last 15 games, "that I have to agree with that right now."

Ditto, it seems, for Malone, whose team-high 17 points Saturday was barely better than the team-high 14 he posted Thursday.

"I don't know, guys," a clearly flustered Malone said. "I wish I knew."

What Malone does know is that the Jazz hung in with the Kings only a smidgen longer Saturday than they did Thursday, when Sacramento got up by 16 in the second quarter and never looked back before handing Utah its most lopsided loss of the season.

This time, Sacramento — using a 20-5 surge at the opening of the second period — got up by as many as 14 late in the opening half. The Jazz did trim to that advantage to 10 at the break, but Utah came no closer than 8 early in the third quarter, and the Kings led over the game's final 17 minutes by double-digits that soared as high as 31.

A whopping seven Kings, led by Peja Stojakovic's 25, scored in double figures as Sacramento posted 100-plus points for the 13th straight game.

"In the last two games, we haven't done too much of anything right," Jazz forward Scott Padgett said. "We haven't defended, we haven't executed, we didn't run the floor and we haven't played Jazz basketball."

The end result is another loss to an opponent clearly playing at a higher level.

Utah's five most-recent losses are all to Western Conference teams faring much better than the Jazz: two to San Antonio, one to Dallas and the two to Sacramento.

"We have to play well against great teams," Stockton said.

That's because Utah just isn't good enough to get away with otherwise. And the Jazz clearly have not been doing that, which leaves them little-to-no hope.

"We have to play together as a unit, and do things the right way," Stockton said, "or it's going to be an ugly night."

The Jazz certainly have had their share of those this season, a fact that compounds itself with time. Where it will lead, and how far below or above .500 it will take them, remains to be seen.

"When we feel sorry for ourselves — which our team does right now — you find out what you're made of," Sloan said.

"But we can't compete against anyone — it does not make any difference — until everyone's together as a group," he added. "And our team does not seem to be together."

NOTES: Jazz backup point guard John Crotty, still bothered by a sore left knee, did not play for the fourth time in six games . . . Sloan went Saturday with the Jazz's eighth different starting lineup of the season, moving Bryon Russell from small forward to shooting guard over John Starks and going back to Andrei Kirilenko at small forward . . . Jazz basketball operations vice president Kevin O'Connor said Saturday he had no comment regarding his meeting late last week with Dwight Manley, the agent for Jazz veterans BryonRussell and Donyell Marshall, both of whose contracts expire after this season . . . The Jazz made their first appearance of the season on NBC, but because the earlier New York vs. Milwaukee game went into double overtime, the nation did not tune in to Utah and Sacramento until the Kings had gone up 39-33 in the second quarter . . . The Jazz have only one other scheduled appearance on NBC this season, Saturday vs. Portland.

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com