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Jazz eye playoff run while Kings eye future

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Say this for the Sacramento Kings: They keep the losing interesting.

Say this for the Utah Jazz: They keep testing the limits of their optimism.

The two teams will try to collect a rare victory on Wednesday night when they face each other at the Golden 1 Center. At least one of them insists it will be disappointed if it doesn't get one.

"We definitely think we can make a run," Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell told the Salt Lake Tribune, referring to Utah's playoff hopes. "That's something we're trying to focus on."

The Jazz's postseason aspirations are shaky at best. Utah (17-26) sits five games behind the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference. With barely less than a half-season left to be played, Utah is still in search of its first winning streak since a season-best six-game run that ended Dec. 5.

Since that night, the Jazz are 4-15. They'll be trying to end a two-game slide on Tuesday.

But their bright outlook remains.

"We have to try to get back to the .500 mark," Mitchell told the Tribune. "But we definitely want to make a push and see where it goes."

They looked ill-equipped to do so in a 109-94 home loss to the Indiana Pacers on Monday. Mitchell scored 23 points, but Utah shot only 44 percent from the field. On the season, they rank in the bottom six of the league in points (29th, 100.6), rebounds (40.8, 26th) and assists (20.9) per game.

The Jazz may receive a boost soon with the return of center Rudy Gobert, who hasn't played since Dec. 15 because a ligament sprain in the back of his knee. Gobert went through a hard workout with braces on both knees before the Indiana game, and he could be close to returning. Even if he does, the sting of losing Thabo Sefolosha and his 21 minutes and 8.2 points per game to an apparent season-ending right knee injury will hurt.

The Kings (13-30) have been stung far more often then they'd like, and it figures to happen quite a bit more in the season's second half. Sacramento is resting in the Western Conference basement, four games and four teams behind the Jazz, and isn't trying to fool anybody about the likelihood of missing the playoffs for the 12th straight season.

"Going forward ... we're going to play a rotation where two or our five veterans are going to be out every night," coach Dave Joerger told the media after Monday's 95-88 road loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team's fifth straight defeat. "It might be sometimes there will be three. It's an opportunity for some other guys to get some minutes, as we go throughout the course of the season. I've got it laid out."

The move signals a shift by Sacramento to give significant looks to players in their first three seasons, in particular rookie De'Aaron Fox and Bogan Bogdanovic, second-year guard Buddy Hield, the team's second-leading scorer at 12.4 points per game and three-year veteran center Willie Cauley-Stein.

It also will mean much more time on the bench for veterans such as Zach Randolph, George Hill, Vince Carter, Kosta Koufos and Garrett Temple.

"If you're in the first three years of your contract, you can expect to play a little, a lot or none," Joerger told reporters. "But you should be ready to play."

The Kings too often haven't been. They've been outscored by an average of 28-24 in first quarters this season, and have led at the end of the first 12 minutes only 12 times all season.

Updated January 16, 2018

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