Two teams that received different outcomes in the first of back-to-backs will test their late-season endurance Saturday night when the Utah Jazz visit the Sacramento Kings in a game with playoff-position ramifications for each.
In a pair of high-scoring affairs, the Kings outlasted the Phoenix Suns 135-127 in Sacramento on Friday night, and the Jazz were thumped 144-116 by the visiting Milwaukee Bucks.
As a result, the Kings (44-29) solidified their standing as the No. 3 team in the Western playoff race while remaining two games behind the Memphis Grizzlies in their duel for the second spot behind the front-running Denver Nuggets.
The Kings can move within one win of their first playoff berth since 2006 and finish off the season series with a 3-1 margin if they defeat Utah on Saturday. Sacramento’s magic number for clinching that spot is two.
Meanwhile, the Jazz will take the court in 12th place in the West, but tied in the loss column with the No. 10 Oklahoma City Thunder and No. 11 Dallas Mavericks.
Sacramento likely will be without star guard De’Aaron Fox for the important contest after he had to be pulled from Friday’s win in the third quarter with a sore right hamstring.
Fox had 19 points at the time.
Kevin Huerter (team-high 29 points), Domantas Sabonis (27 points, nine rebounds and nine assists) and Harrison Barnes (23 points) saw to it that Fox’s late-game heroics wouldn’t be needed. They kept the Suns at arm’s length after a 45-point third-quarter outburst built a double-digit lead.
“I was proud of the group’s response,” Barnes said of the ability to hold off the Suns without Fox. “Coming up with good possessions, making shots, just making things happen out there.”
Sacramento coach Mike Brown gave his hometown fans credit for an assist in the club’s 22nd home win of the season, saying afterward, “”The energy in this building is off the charts.”
The Jazz (35-38) nearly sent those same fans home disappointed the last time they visited Sacramento on Dec. 30 before Huerter buried a 3-pointer with 9.2 seconds remaining in a 126-125 Kings win.
Lauri Markkanen had 36 points in the loss, but he’s questionable for Saturday’s game because of a bruised left hand suffered in a hard fall in Wednesday’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
He sat out Friday’s loss to the Bucks, opening the door for Simone Fontecchio to score a career-best 26 points.
Jordan Clarkson (sprained left ring finger) and Collin Sexton (strained left hamstring) also missed the opener of the back-to-back.
Of the three, Markkanen appears most likely to face the Kings. Although an X-ray was negative, Jazz coach Will Hardy recognizes his All-Star is hurting.
“Lauri takes a beating,” he said. “He plays a physical game. It will be a day-to-day thing.”
The Jazz have lost two in a row. They return home to host the Suns, another team in the thick of the Western Conference chase, on Monday.