SACRAMENTO (AP) — Bothered by injuries and missing some key backcourt personnel, the Utah Jazz still managed an impressive victory Wednesday night against the Sacramento Kings.
Gordon Hayward scored 20 points, Rodney Hood had 18 and the Jazz beat the Kings 112-82 to keep pace with two other teams trying to overtake them in the Western Conference.
The victory keeps the Jazz (46-29) in fourth place in the West. The fifth-place Clippers beat Washington to remain 1 ½ games behind Utah, and sixth-place Oklahoma City also won to stay 2 ½ games back. The top four teams earn home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.
“That would be great (if we got fourth), but we have to take it one game at a time and hopefully we get it,” said Rudy Gobert, who had 16 points and 14 rebounds. “If we don’t, we still have to win four games to go to the next round. It would be great to play at home for sure.”
Utah jumped to a 20-point lead, and then squandered most of it in the second quarter. It put together a solid second half to secure its third win in four games.
Shelvin Mack scored 14 points to lead a strong contribution by the Utah bench, which produced 47 points.
Mack had missed four games recently with a sprained ankle and played only three minutes in his first game back Monday. He was needed against the Kings with guards George Hill and Raul Neto each out with strained groins.
“He (Mack) had five deflections, and that’s what we want from the guys on the bench,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “They come in and they do that, and the offense sometimes just takes care of itself.”
Ben McLemore tied a season high with 22 points for Sacramento, and Darren Collison had 12.
The Kings went 2 for 15 from 3-point range, compared to 13 for 32 for the Jazz.
“We started off slow, in the hole, and tried to come back. We got into another hole in the fourth, so it’s live and learn,” Willie Cauley-Stein said. “During the early part of the season these playoffs team are not going hard at you. But when it’s playoff time, this time of the year, they are coming at you. They are trying win and get out. Especially, when you’re playing a team that’s not going to be in the playoffs.”
Utah has clinched its first playoff appearance since the 2011-12 season. It has a difficult seven games left on its schedule, including two meetings with San Antonio and Portland and a road game at Golden State.
The Kings were coming off impressive victories against the playoff-bound Clippers and Grizzlies. They went with a youthful lineup with veterans Kosta Koufos and Garrett Temple sitting out the game and Arron Afflalo away from the team due to personal reasons.
BLOCK STREAK ENDS FOR GOBERT
Gobert leads the NBA in blocked shots per game, but he had zero against the Kings, halting a string of 42 straight games with at least one or more, dating to Dec. 23. The streak was sixth longest in franchise history.
“He’s a very long, good defender,” said Kings rookie Skal Labissiere, who was matched up at times against the taller Gobert. “He came up pretty well for his size and he’s challenging.”
Jazz: Derrick Favors (left knee bone contusion) was also out. ... Utah held a 43-32 rebounding edge.
Kings: Missed their first nine shots to start the game. ... McLemore rallied the Kings in the second period, scoring a career high for one quarter of 17 points as Sacramento closed the gap to 50-43 by halftime.
Jazz: Return home Friday for strong test against John Wall and Washington.
Kings: At New Orleans on Friday in what should be an emotional game, the first meeting against ex-teammate DeMarcus Cousins.