SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—Utah coach Jerry Sloan thinks his team is just trying to hold on, and that’s why the Jazz are down in their playoff series against Sacramento.
The Jazz returned to practice on Wednesday, two days after a 108-95 loss that gave the Kings a 2-0 lead in the series.
“They have a tremendous focus on what they want to accomplish. They want to win. They want to move forward,” Sloan said. “We just try to tread water and you usually sink when you’re trying to do that. If you’re going to tread water, you’d better be able to do it.”
So far, the Jazz have done lots of sinking. Utah kept the Kings within range in a 96-90 loss in the series opener, but on Monday watched Sacramento run away.
The Jazz’s attempts to slow down the Kings’ run-and-gun offense were futile, and Sacramento led by as much as 25 in the fourth quarter. Sloan sat his starters for the final period as he searched for some combination that would show some life.
“They’ve been able to take advantage of every defensive mistake that we’ve made. Go right down the line, even at the end of the game the other night,” Sloan said.
With the extended break before Game 3 on Saturday, Sloan and the Jazz have a few days to come up with a new plan.
“You’ve got to go out there and be physical. That’s how we were able to be in the first game, but in the second game we didn’t do that and they did whatever they wanted to do,” Karl Malone said.
The Kings won handily despite playing the second half without Chris Webber, who left the game early in the second quarter after injuring his lower back when he landing awkwardly while fighting for a rebound. He didn’t practice Wednesday and was listed as day-to-day.
Sacramento coach Rick Adelman noted that the Kings had no trouble holding off the Jazz even without Webber, who led the team in scoring, rebounding and assists.
“I don’t think it was their mistakes that allowed us to win,” Adelman said. “I think we just did a better job of running our game plan and imposing our will on them. We were a very aggressive team in most parts of the first two games.”
Utah has never won a best-of-seven series after losing the opener, let alone the first two.
“I think we have to be tougher,” Sloan said. “In order to beat a team that’s better than you are in some cases, you have to have mental toughness to be able to stick to what you have to do. You can have it individually, but you also have to have it as a group.”
Unless the Jazz find a solution to Sacramento, the decisions facing Malone and point guard John Stockton will be coming much quicker than either one wants.
The 41-year-old Stockton is considering retirement and Malone needs to decide if he wants to play in Utah or somewhere else next fall after his contract expires. Both have said the decisions will come after the playoffs.
The Kings have won the last six regular-season meetings at the Delta Center and beat the Jazz there twice in the opening round of last year’s playoffs for a 3-1 series win.
Sacramento has come a long way since getting knocked out by the Jazz in five games in the opening round of the 1999 playoffs.
“It’s like a boxer,” Malone said. “You’ve been knocking people out for a lot of years, you get somebody that gets in there with you and knocks you out and they love it. And people love it. That’s just part of it.”