Jazz return from break, hand Rockets 15th straight loss

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Jazz returned with a win, though not one they felt like celebrating.

“We didn’t do a good job tonight and I guess it’s a good thing we won but we have to be better,” Donovan Mitchell said. Mitchell had 28 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, and the Jazz opened the second half of the season by beating the Houston Rockets 114-99 on Friday night.

“Very poor on a lot of levels,” coach Quin Snyder said. “We gave up the paint, gave up everything, gave up 3s. We were lucky they didn’t make more shots, because we were porous defensively. … They had everything they wanted on the offensive glass. We turned it over 20 times. There wasn’t a lot that we did well tonight,” he said. The only bright spot Snyder allowed was: “We executed the last three minutes.”

Playing for the first time since March 3, the NBA leaders handed the Rockets their 15th straight loss. Mike Conley added 20 points and Rudy Gobert had 14 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks as the Jazz got back on track after dropping their final two games of the first half. Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson each scored 15 but the Jazz needed a late run to close out the Rockets.

Kevin Porter Jr scored a season-high 27 points for Houston. He was 1 of 9 from three-point range and 11 of 25 overall. Sterling Brown and Kenyon Martin Jr each had 15 points. “They were playing free, without John (Wall), without Christian (Wood) without Vic (Oladipo) — they were playing free, and they were coming to attack us. Everybody’s coming to attack us and we got to be ready,” Mitchell said. The Rockets’ slump is their longest since losing 15 straight in 2001. Houston’s last win came February 4 against Memphis.

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley lays the ball up as Houston Rockets Anthony Lamb defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game. PHOTO: AP

After losing three of four games before the All-Star break, the Jazz were looking to recapture the form that won them 22 of 24 games and vaulted them to the top of the NBA standings.

The short-handed Rockets had just nine healthy players — most of whom had been at the end of the bench or out of the league this year — but the Jazz still looked disjointed and rusty at times.

After falling behind by 23 in the third quarter, the Rockets cut the lead to 94-90 early in the fourth on Jae’Sean Tate’s three-pointer and David Nwaba’s layup.

“We were getting big stops, rebounding, even though we were undersized. I thought we did a good job just fighting and just staying positive,” Nwaba said.

During the 16-2 run, the ragtag Rockets forced three Jazz misses in a row and then a trio of turnovers to make their comeback.

“We have group of guys that play hard and just leave it on the floor. We knew they were the number one team in the West. We have young talent and we just tried to go out and show what we can do without everybody,” Martin said.

After watching the Rockets’ unlikely rally from the bench, Mitchell returned to the court with a flourish, assisting on 3-pointers by Clarkson and Royce O’Neale to build the lead back to double digits but then got hit in the chest on his next drive, fell to the court and slowly made his way to the bench during the ensuing timeout. He continued playing but only scored one point the rest of the way.

The Jazz finished the game on a 12-3 surge, highlighted by Conley’s timely playmaking and Gobert’s defence. Meanwhile, the weary Rockets missed 10 of the final 11 field goal attempts. Justin Patton had a career-high 13 points for Houston.