Conley eyes encore as Jazz visit winless Kings

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Mike Conley was pleased to see the basket open up like a giant tire after it appeared to be the size of a donut over his first four games of the season.

The 32-year-old point guard made more shots in his fifth game with the Utah Jazz than he did in his four outings combined. Now he hopes he has found his shooting stroke as Utah visits the struggling Sacramento Kings on Friday night.

Conley shot 11-for-17 (64.7 percent) on Wednesday in the Jazz’s 110-96 home win over the Los Angeles Clippers after being a paltry 9-for-45 (20.0 percent) from the field during the four-game funk to begin the season.

“I’m just trying to get back to who I am,” Conley said after the victory over the Clippers. “It is a lonely place when you’re playing like that the first few games.”

Conley made five 3-pointers Wednesday and really began to flourish in the third quarter when he scored 18 of his season-high 29 points.

During his slump, Conley endured a 1-of-16 shooting performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder in his Utah debut and missed all seven field-goal attempts while scoring just one point at the Phoenix Suns earlier this week.

“My teammates supported me. They know how hard I work and how much time I put into the game,” said Conley, who was acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies in the offseason. “I wanted to put on a better show for the fans the first few games, but hopefully this is going to continue to build in a positive direction for myself and the team and we’ll keep getting better.”

Speaking of putting on a better show, Sacramento (0-5) is off to its worst start since a seven-game slide to start the 1990-91 campaign.

The fans aren’t happy about the stretch that includes a 32-point road loss to Utah last Saturday. The Kings were recipients of a loud chorus of boos on Wednesday when a 14-point lead evaporated en route to a 118-111 loss to the visiting Charlotte Hornets.

“I know the fans are frustrated right now. They’re booing us and everything,” Sacramento shooting guard Buddy Hield said after the latest setback. “I know when we get this thing rolling, they’ll be passionate. We have to get a win and once we get that win, we’ll get rolling. Winning is hard in this league, and there are no excuses.”

Hield made seven 3-pointers while scoring 23 points against Charlotte. He averaged four points on 3-of-20 shooting over the previous two games.

Richaun Holmes is providing a boost in the interior with back-to-back solid games. The 26-year-old forward had 17 points (on 8-of-10 shooting), nine rebounds and three blocked shots against Charlotte. He is averaging 20.5 points (on 18-of-24 shooting), 11 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots over the past two games.

But Sacramento isn’t receiving enough stellar efforts. The club also is struggling defensively, allowing an average of 115.6 points per game.

The dismal start is causing new Kings coach Luke Walton to make sure his players don’t go into panic mode.

“It’s important for our group right now that we really stick together,” Walton said. “I hope they can see that, even though we haven’t found a way to win a game, the work they are putting in is going to lead us to win at a consistent level.”

Meanwhile, Utah (4-1) has won three consecutive games and has yet to allow more than 96 points in a game. The Jazz are giving up an average of 92.4 points — the best figure in the league.

“We’re working at it,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of the defensive intensity. “Our guys take pride in the defensive end. It is going to get harder, and we have to keep getting better.”

When the teams met last Saturday in Salt Lake City, Utah held Sacramento to 37 percent shooting from the field, including 7-for-26 (26.9 percent) from 3-point range, en route to a 113-81 drubbing. Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic scored 23 of his 26 game-high points in the first half.

Utah has won nine of its past 10 meetings with Sacramento.

–Field Level Media

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