Kessler Career-High Not Enough As Jazz Fall To Kings

Mar 25, 2023, 11:15 PM

SALT LAKE CITY – Walker Kessler scored a career-high 31 points but it wasn’t enough as the Utah Jazz fell to the Sacramento Kings 121-113.

Kessler added 11 rebounds while fellow rookie Ochai Agbaji added 20 points in the loss.

The Kings were led by Kevin Huerter who scored 27 points.

Jazz Not Wasting Late Losses

With the odds of making the play-in tournament looking less probable each night, losses are likely the best outcome for the Jazz for the rest of the season.

And while the Jazz have dropped three consecutive games, helping to better position themselves for a top-10 pick in June’s draft, the team isn’t wasting these learning opportunities.

With only eight games remaining, the Jazz could have mailed in these contests, no longer worrying about execution, or maintaining their competitive edge.

Instead, the Jazz have capitalized on these contests, providing their rookies with room to prove they belong in the rotation in high-leverage situations.

Over the last four games, including Monday’s win over the Kings, the Jazz have seen career highs from three of their rookies.

Agbaji scored 27 points on Monday, while Simone Fontecchio added a career-high 26 against the Milwaukee Bucks.

On Saturday, it was Kessler’s turn to show he could be a serious offensive threat scoring 31 points on a stellar 14-16 shooting.

“I think the ball bounced our way tonight,” Kessler said of his career-high. “I’m always going to play hard, so tonight just happened to happen to go well.”

Kessler is the first rookie in Jazz history to score 30 points and grab 10 rebounds in the same game, and the first rookie since 1998 to do it on 85 percent shooting or better.

The Auburn product still doesn’t create much of offense with the ball in his hands, but his ability to outrun opponents down the floor, and catch the ball in traffic will provide him with plenty of opportunities to score.

As he further develops his touch around the rim, and expands his shooting beyond the perimeter, his role on the offensive end will grow.

The Jazz have been cautious in how quickly they turned the ball over to their rookies as they sought to stay competitive this season. Now, over the final 10 games of the season, they’re reaping the rewards.

Jazz Looking At Top 10 Pick

Riding a three-game losing streak, the Jazz’s odds of landing a top-10 pick in the draft continue to improve.

With the loss to the Kings, the Jazz now sit alone with the ninth-worst record in the NBA, a half-game worse than the idle Chicago Bulls at 35-39.

The Jazz also got help on Saturday as the New Orleans Pelicans extended their winning streak to four, beating the Los Angeles Clippers, and moving two full games ahead of the Jazz in the Western Conference standings.

Currently, Utah sits a game back of the 11th-seeded Dallas Mavericks and 10th-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder who are tied at 36-38 in the West, with both teams owning season tie-breakers over the Jazz.

The Mavericks beat the Jazz in three out of four meetings this season, while the Thunder lead the Jazz 2-1 with a final meeting being played in Utah on April 6.

The surging Pelicans do have the toughest remaining schedule left in the Western Conference but should have a good opportunity to extend their win streak to five when they travel to face the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday.

Portland is 2.5 games back of the Jazz in the standings, but reports indicated that the Blazers are considering shutting down All-Star Damian Lillard for the remainder of the season.

According to FiveThirtyEight, the Jazz are projected to win three more games this season, finishing with a record of 38-44, and what would amount to the ninth pick in the draft.

Utah Jazz Next Broadcast

The Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns will tip off at 7 pm MT in Salt Lake City on Monday. The game will be televised on AT&T SportsNet and can be heard on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. It can also be streamed on DirecTV Stream and FuboTV.

Download the new & improved KSL Sports app from Utah’s sports leader. You can stream live radio, video and stay up to date on all of your favorite teams.

Ben Anderson is the Utah Jazz insider for KSL Sports and the co-host of Jake and Ben from 10-12p with Jake Scott on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter at @BensHoops or on Instagram @BensHoops.

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Kessler Career-High Not Enough As Jazz Fall To Kings