Utah Jazz: For coach Jerry Sloan it is - always - about defense

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Posted: 12:57 PM- BOISE, Idaho -- From the very first meeting on the very first morning of training camp, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, a charter member of the NBA's all-defensive team during his playing days, started the season by talking about a subject close to his heart.

He brought it up in connection with the Boston Celtics' championship last season and the gold medals brought home by the U.S. Olympic team this summer. About the only thing he didn't do was spell out the word letter by letter for his players.

Enough was enough after Sloan watched the Jazz give up 99.3 points a game last season, the most by one of his teams in 15 years. Defense will be the difference if the Jazz are to take the next step in becoming a championship team rather than just a playoff one.

"You just don't do it," Ronnie Brewer said. "You have to want to do it, because it definitely doesn't feel good having to play defense every possession, bending down, sliding, getting physical with the other team.

"But if we just buy into the concept of being in help position, not being afraid to go and help and then have confidence that another teammate will help you if you go help somebody, I mean, that's what the good teams did."

With that, the Jazz are pledging themselves to becoming a more committed defensive team. Whether they can reach the level of the NBA's elite - - Boston, Detroit, San Antonio, Houston - - in that department remains to be seen.

The Jazz were 18-23 last season when they gave up 100 points or more. They were even worse when playing the second game of a back-to-back set on the road, allowing 109.8 points on average and beating only Memphis (twice) and Milwaukee.

They were scorched for 40-plus points not only by Tracy McGrady, Josh Howard and LeBron James, but also Denver's Linas Kleiza. The Lakers shot 231 free throws in their six-game conference semifinals series against the Jazz and averaged 110.3 points as a result.

Yet the Jazz also held San Antonio and New Orleans to 64 and 66 points leading up to the playoffs in April. They can't help but believe the capability is there to become a better defensive team.

"There's some techniques and stuff and ideas, but I think everybody has those things in mind," Sloan said. "Most teams, it's just a matter of trying to pull together as a group of guys."

"I think when we're playing our best games, we're unbelievable defensively," Andrei Kirilenko added. "Everybody playing on a great level. All we need to do is just keep focused on that part."

Sloan did signal Wednesday that with a deeper bench as compared to previous seasons, he would have little tolerance for complacency on defense.

"If a guy doesn't want to run down the floor and defend and do those things, I'll play somebody else," Sloan said.

The Jazz have a ways to go in a league where the Celtics and Pistons set the standard last season, holding teams to barely 90 points a game. But the continuity that comes with bringing back 13 players from last season could help.

"I think that comes with maturity, it comes with being around each other more and trusting each other more," Deron Williams said.

Both Sloan and Williams cited the need to foul less. After leading the NBA in fouls last season, the Jazz need to strike a balance between physical play and allowing teams to parade to the foul line 30-plus times a game.

More also will be asked of Brewer, the Jazz's primary defender when it comes to stopping Kobe Bryant, McGrady and others. He said his focus will be on better funneling scorers toward help defenders, forcing them to give up the ball.

Having bulked up to 235 pounds, Brewer also is looking forward to using his size and being more aggressive. "It definitely starts with me," Brewer said. "My intensity and getting us going on the defensive end, getting a steal here and there."

Williams said the Jazz needed to buckle down better in the fourth quarter. Carlos Boozer said they had to key in on stopping each team's top player, much as the Celtics handcuffed Bryant during the NBA Finals.

"If we're able to stop that marquee guy, whoever that player is, we'll have a chance to win," Boozer said.