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Jazz return from break, hand Rockets 15th straight loss

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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 3-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 Feb. 4 against Memphis.

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 3-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 No. 1 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 defense. Meanwhile, the weary Rockets missed 10 of the final 11 field goal attempts.

Justin Patton had a career-high 13 points for Houston.

Already down to nine players, McLemore, Tate and Brown all had at least two fouls with 3:46 left in the first quarter as the Jazz repeatedly drove to the basket. The Rockets stopped fouling but also ceased defending effectively.

By halftime, Mitchell had 18 points and the Jazz had made 19 of 21 free throws to take a 65-48 lead.

TIP-INS

Rockets: Coach Stephen Silas unsuccessfully challenged a foul where Porter bumped Mitchell on a drive with 3:12 left. … The Rockets outscored the Jazz on second-chance points, 24-9, on 19 offensive rebounds. … The Rockets went 9 for 43 on 3-point shots and just 8 for 13 from the free throw line.

Jazz: Utah now allows 5,600 fans in the arena, up from the 3,900 capacity before the break. … Veteran forward Ersan Ilyasova, who hasn’t played in the NBA this season, joined the Jazz during the All-Star break but didn’t play Friday. … The Jazz had 20 turnovers, including several unforced.

DEPLECTED RANKS

The Rockets were without Wood (ankle), Wall (knee), Danuel House Jr. (knee), and Eric Gordon (groin). Gordon planned to undergo an MRI in Utah and early reports predicted him out for a month or more.

Less than four days after his release, rookie guard Mason Jones was back in uniform on a 10-day contract signed the day of the game.

LONGTIME MASSAGE THERAPIST’S DEATH AFFECTS JAZZ

Doug Birrell, who was a massage therapist for the Jazz for more than 20 seasons and a personal therapist for John Stockton and Karl Malone for years before that, died this week at age 51 from cancer.

Players said his passing affected them, especially those who have been with the team for a few seasons. He had an enthusiastic and fun personality that was a big part of the organization off the court.

Joe Ingles said, “It was a tough week. Doug has been such a massive part of our organization for 21 years and to not have him with us for the first time is extremely sad. It’s not an excuse but I was thinking about it a lot.”

UP NEXT

Rockets: Host the Boston Celtics on Sunday to kick off a seven-game homestand.

Jazz: Visit the Golden State Warriors on Sunday to start a run of five on the road.

By MATTHEW COLES
Associated Press

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