SALT LAKE CITY – It took 45 games, but the Utah Jazz finally escaped from the cellar of the Western Conference.
Center Derrick Favors and forwards Marvin Williams and Jeremy Evans all produced double-doubles and the Jazz took advantage of a short-handed Sacramento Kings squad en route to a 106-99 victory on Monday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
The outcome pushed the Jazz’s record to 16-29 and dropped the Kings to 15-29, marking the first time this season that Utah hasn’t owned the worst record in the West.
“It is definitely a relief. You get tired of seeing yourself down there at the bottom,” Jazz point guard Trey Burke said. “But that goes to show how hard we’ve been working the last couple of months (after) just digging ourselves a hole in the beginning of the year.”
The Jazz are 15-15 since beginning the season 1-14. The Kings, plagued by recent injuries to top players, lost their fourth game in a row.
Favors had 17 points and 12 rebounds for his 15th double-double to lead the Jazz, who matched their season high of two wins in a row. Williams contributed 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Evans came off the bench to add 14 points and 10 boards.
The Kings used a peculiar strategy to stage a comeback in the fourth quarter after falling behind by as many as 20 points.
Backup Utah center Enes Kanter hit a 15-foot jumper, giving the Jazz a 97-81 lead with 4:20 remaining, when the Kings began fouling Utah players in an effort to rally.
Sacramento coach Mike Malone wasn’t about to apologize for taking the game to the free-throw line.
“I’m always going to (do that), whether it’s young guys, old guys, middle-aged guys,” he said. “I’m always going to do everything I can to extend the game and give us a chance to win.”
That hack-a-Jazz-man strategy almost worked. It also made the fourth quarter last for 40 minutes.
In the final 3:16, Utah only hit nine of 20 free throws. The Kings kept the pressure on the Jazz reserves, pulling within 104-99 with 31 seconds remaining on a three-point play by rookie guard Ben McLemore.
“Does it get under the skin of players? I don’t know, it probably (does),” Favors said. “Guys on the court are probably ready to get the game over with, too. At the same time, they’ve just got to understand that they’re trying to do something. We’ve just got to be focused and hit the free throws.”
Kings reserve Ray McCallum made a turnover and missed a 3-pointer after that, though, as Sacramento’s rally fell short.
“It slows the game down, it stops the clock, and it gives us extra possessions,” Malone said. “We went from being completely out of the game to making it interesting.”
The Kings began the game without their leading scorers, center DeMarcus Cousins and forward Rudy Gay, because of injuries, and they played the fourth quarter and a half without their No. 3 scorer. Starting point guard Isaiah Thomas didn’t return to action after going to the locker room in the third quarter with a stomach ailment.
Cousins didn’t make the trip to Salt Lake City from Sacramento. He missed the past three games after spraining his left ankle in Houston on Jan. 22.
Gay suffered a left Achilles injury in that same game against the Rockets. He tested the foot before Monday’s tipoff but didn’t dress.
“Sometimes it’s tough,” Kings forward Derrick Williams said. “At the same time, there is a reason why you have 15 guys in the locker room.”
Center Jason Thompson led the Kings with 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Williams chipped in 17 points and 15 boards.
Evans was poked in the eye by McLemore while driving to the basket in the second quarter. He missed both free throws and played for several minutes before going to the training room to be evaluated. Evans returned in the second half, finishing with one of his best games this season.
The Jazz finished hitting 35 of 53 free throws, including 12 of 25 in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve got to make free throws,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “It worked for them, so they’ll continue to do it.”
NOTES: When Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan is honored by the Jazz on Friday night, the banner raised to the arena rafters will sport the number 1,223. That represents the wins that Sloan posted in the regular season and playoffs during his 23 years with the Jazz. … Utah coach Tyrone Corbin, who replaced Sloan three years ago, joked that he isn’t sure how a jersey would look “with that many numbers on it.” Corbin described Sloan’s career, which included two NBA Finals trips and the third-most wins in NBA history, as being “a lot of work.” … Utah’s newest player, F Malcolm Thomas, did not dress after arriving in his new NBA home on Sunday. The Jazz claimed the former San Diego State player off waivers on Saturday after the San Antonio Spurs cut him on Thursday. He said he was getting a pedicure with his mom when he received the call. … Sacramento won in its last visit to Utah, 112-102 in overtime on Dec. 7. … Kings G Jimmer Fredette, who played at nearby BYU, was booed and cheered every time he touched the ball.
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