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Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson help Hornets beat Jazz for first time in 6 years, 104-86

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Al Jefferson said he could have returned from a strained groin late in the fourth quarter.

The Charlotte Hornets didn't need the big man for a change.

The Hornets (8-19) improved to 2-0 with Lance Stephenson out of the lineup and snapped a 10-game losing streak against the Utah Jazz with a 104-86 win on Saturday night.

Kemba Walker led the way with 20 points, Jefferson added 19 points and 10 rebounds and Charlotte beat Utah for the first time in six years.

Jefferson nearly registered his third straight game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds but left the game with six minutes remaining with a mild groin strain and did not return. The 6-foot-10 center didn't return with his team leading by 20.

"It feels good," Jefferson said. "If they needed me, I could've come back in there."

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Hornets, who have won back-to-back games for only the third time this season.

Walker was solid running the point with no turnovers in 33 minutes while getting six assists and four steals.

"I'm not saying he's at an entirely different level, but his defense, his organizational skills as a point guard and his pick and roll game all year is better," Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. "He did so much in the summer that he's a totally different player."

Gordon Hayward had 14 points to lead Utah (8-20).

The Hornets targeted Hayward this offseason as top restricted free agent, signing him to a seven-year, $63 million offer sheet. However, the Jazz matched the offer to retain his rights. The Hornets then turned their attention to Stephenson, who has struggled to fit in with the team and has been the subject of trade rumors.

Charlotte led by 21 entering the fourth quarter, but allowed Utah to get within 10 when Alec Burks knocked down a jump shot with about seven minutes left.

About a minute later when Jefferson headed to the locker room to get looked at it appeared the Hornets might be on the verge of yet another second half collapse.

PHOTO: Charlotte Hornets' Cody Zeller (40) goes up to dunk against Utah Jazz's Gordon Hayward (20) and Enes Kanter (0) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Charlotte Hornets' Cody Zeller (40) goes up to dunk against Utah Jazz's Gordon Hayward (20) and Enes Kanter (0) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

But Gerald Henderson and Walker both hit 3-pointers to help the Hornets build the lead back to 21 with 3:23 left in the game and the Jazz never challenged again.

Henderson had 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting for Charlotte.

Charlotte out-rebounded Utah 49-39.

The Hornets set the tone early, shooting 47 percent from the field in the first half while holding the Jazz to 34 percent to take a 52-39 lead at the break.

"Our start hurt us," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "We let Al Jefferson catch the ball way too deep. They had a couple of easy buckets early and it made us even more tired."

It was Utah's fourth game in five nights — all on the East coast.

"They better get used to it," Snyder said. "That's life in the NBA. We acknowledge there is some fatigue involved but at the same time we just can't accept that fact."


TIP-INS

Jazz: Hayward has scored in double digits 25 times this season.

Hornets: Stephenson missed his second straight game with a groin injury and coach Steve Clifford said he will be out at least through Christmas.

GOBERT'S SPARK: Rudy Gobert had 11 points and 12 rebounds as the Jazz had its two-game winning streak snapped. "He had some energy," Snyder said. "He seemed like he had some bounce and freshness."

UP NEXT

Nets: Host Miami on Tuesday night.

Hornets: At Memphis on Monday night.

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Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: Utah Jazz's Rudy Gobert (27) and Charlotte Hornets' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14) battle for a loose ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
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