Stojakovic returns, Kings extend lead in West


SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- What's the most remarkable thing about
Sacramento going unbeaten on a six-game road trip? To Chris Webber,
it wasn't that the Kings won all six.

"It's that we were able to win five of them without that guy
over there," he said, nodding toward Predrag Stojakovic.

Webber scored 28 points and Stojakovic had 23 in his return from
an eight-game absence as the Sacramento Kings beat the Utah Jazz
117-109 on Friday night.

The Kings won their seventh straight and capped a 6-0 road trip,
extending their lead over the Los Angeles Lakers to 3 1/2 games in the
Pacific Division. They also set franchise records with their 56th
win and 23rd road victory.

"It's a sign of maturity," Webber said. "We're really coming
together. Having him back (Stojakovic), it's the first time in a
while we've had our whole team together."

It was just the opposite for the Jazz. Perennial All-Star Karl
Malone went home before tipoff with a swollen right knee, only the
fifth game he missed due to injury in his 17-year career.

"Without Karl in the lineup, I think everybody was trying to do
a little bit too much," said John Stockton, who had 20 points and
10 assists. "We forced it a little bit too much, and that's
exactly the wrong approach."

Donyell Marshall started in place of Malone and scored a
season-high 32 points to go with 13 rebounds, but the Jazz came up
short after putting a serious scare into the Kings, who swept the
season series.

"This is the first time I've ever seen a game in Utah without
Karl Malone. It didn't seem right," Webber said.

Mike Bibby scored 16 for Sacramento, while Doug Christie had 14
and Vlade Divac and Bobby Jackson each scored 12.

Bryon Russell scored 20 while Andrei Kirilenko had 13 and Rusty
LaRue added 11 for the Jazz.

Stojakovic missed eight games with a strained right hamstring,
but the rest seemed to do him well. He was 7-for-11 from the floor,
and Webber was 13-of-22 as the Kings shot 54 percent.

"You never want to miss a game, especially when you're hurt,"
Stojakovic said. "That was probably the toughest thing I've had to
handle in my career, being on the bench and not being able to

It was a potential playoff preview. If the standings remain the
same the rest of the way, the Kings would land the No. 1 seed and
the Jazz would be No. 8.

"We played a lot better this game than we did in the previous
three, but you don't want to take that as a plus," Marshall said.
"We've got to play a lot smarter than we played tonight."

Utah gave it everything possible this time. After trailing by as
many as 22 points in the first half, the Jazz steadily crawled back
and pulled to 99-98 on Russell's jumper with 5:58 remaining.

"It was a great effort by a lot of guys to get back into it,"
Stockton said.

That's when the Kings finally woke up from a second-half
slumber, with Webber and Bibby scoring all the points in a 9-2
burst that stretched Sacramento's lead to 108-100 and forced a Utah
timeout with 3:24 to go.

By then, Bibby and Webber were finally smiling and clapping.
After the final horn, a group of Kings fans gathered near the
Sacramento bench and chanted, "beat L.A., beat L.A."

"We didn't quit and they fought back hard," Bibby said. "We
relaxed too much and let them back in the game. We wanted to close
them out early and it didn't happen."

Game notes
Jazz C John Amaechi was on the bench in street clothes,
suspended for one game after arguing with coach Jerry Sloan in the
fourth quarter Wednesday against the Clippers. ... Sacramento's 36
first-quarter points were a season-high by a Jazz opponent. ...
Malone's mother watched from the stands behind the Utah bench. ...
Utah fell to 3-13 against the top five teams in the West. ... The
Jazz lost the first three games to the Kings by an average score of