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Surging Jazz take on Kings

SALT LAKE CITY -- No one can deny Utah has undergone a significant evolution as the season has progressed. Each day, the Jazz are less of team fighting their way into the NBA playoffs and more of a team who could make some serious postseason noise.

Utah (39-30) has won eight straight and 20 of its last 22 games entering Saturday's contest against the Sacramento Kings.

The Jazz are operating at an elite level defensively. They have held six of their last seven opponents under 40 percent shooting from the field and have allowed just four opponents to score 100 or more points over their last 22 games.

A 19-28 start that left Utah seemingly ticketed for the NBA Draft lottery has become a distant memory.

"I don't know if we're a 'mature' team yet," Utah coach Quin Snyder told reporters. "We're playing more mature. To me, that just means consistency. Mature teams have the ability to recognize things that are in the game that either aren't going well and can correct them or are going well and they keep doing them."

Rudy Gobert has been leading the charge at both ends of the court. Gobert has scored more than 20 points four times in the last six games.

He recorded his 24th double-double of the season in Utah's 116-88 victory over Phoenix on Thursday, finishing with 21 points and 13 rebounds.

After winning only two games in February, the Kings (23-47) have taken some steps forward of their own in March. Sacramento has gone 5-4 since the start of the month.

The Kings finally had a major breakthrough, snapping a five-game road skid with a 98-93 victory over Golden State on Friday night. Buddy Hield led the way with 22 points on 7 of 13 shooting.

An encouraging sign for Sacramento is the number of close games the team has played. Seven of the team's last nine games have been decided by less than 10 points and the Kings are 5-2 in those contests.

That also includes a pair of overtime victories -- a 116-111 win over Brooklyn on March 1 and a 123-119 win over Miami on Wednesday.

Doing well in close games is helping the team develop good habits in crunch time and is creating a winning culture they hope carries over into next season.

"Confidence comes with it," Hield told the Sacramento Bee. "You can grind out close games and still don't win, but it feels good to win these games."

Utah won both previous meetings with Sacramento this season. The Jazz claimed their most recent victory on March 3, beating the Kings 98-91.

Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors have done most of the damage for the Jazz in those victories. Mitchell has averaged 30.5 points on 61.8 percent shooting while Favors has chipped in 14.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest.

Bogdan Bogdanovic has been Sacramento's most consistent weapon against the Jazz. He's averaged 20 points in both games against Utah and shot a combined 9 of 10 from 3-point range in those contests.
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