Increased emphasis on defense pays dividends as opponents' scoring falls from last season.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The Utah Jazz are getting defensive, which partly explains why they have risen to third in the Western Conference standings.
Heading into Monday night's game against Memphis, the Jazz have held 10 straight opponents to 97 points or fewer.
Utah is the only team in the NBA that holds its opponents under 43 percent shooting.
The Jazz, of course, haven't always been able to hang their hat on defense.
Just two seasons ago, they allowed 100.9 points per game.
"We've made a conscious effort to help each other," said Paul Millsap. "I think everybody has taken it as a personal challenge to go out and guard their guy. That's the big difference [from] past years. Everybody's taking it on as a challenge."
Two changes in the Jazz's starting lineup have probably been factors.
Veteran Raja Bell starts at shooting guard instead of then-rookie Wesley Matthews, who signed a free-agent contract last summer with Portland.
Meanwhile, Millsap starts in place of Carlos Boozer, the offense-first power forward who signed with Chicago in the offseason.
"We're definitely a better defensive team," Deron Williams said. "I think we're putting a lot more effort into it. … We realize if we want to be an elite team, we've got to do it on the defensive end first."
A key to the Jazz's improvement is their 3-point defense.
Utah has held its first 21 opponents to 30.8 percent 3-point shooting.
"We've done a pretty good job we've been able to guard the 3-point line a little better," coach Jerry Sloan said. "Raja has given us some experience and ability to get out and do that. That's been one of our downfalls."
At center, Al Jefferson has been starting as Memo Okur continues to rehab his surgically repaired Achilles tendon.
Compared with Boozer, especially, Jefferson's length and shot-blocking ability have helped Utah's interior defense, which in turn allows the perimeter players to stay home more often.
"We've been able to guard inside a little better," Sloan said, "and that always gives you a chance. … I think this team just concentrates on it more. They have an attitude an attitude of trying to get it done."
The final aspect of Utah's improved defense has been the Williams-led execution on offense, which leads to better shots, preventing long rebounds and transition baskets.
"You have a chance to get back and get your defense set," Sloan said. "When we have bad shot selection, it doesn't make any difference who's guarding who."
The Jazz gave up 110 points in their first two games of the season losses at Denver and to Phoenix at EnergySolutions Arena.
Utah also allowed at least 107 points in five of its first seven games.
Then came the turnaround, starting with a 104-94 win at Orlando on Nov. 10, when the Magic shot only 43 percent, including 12 of 32 from the 3-point line.
The Jazz rallied from an 18-point deficit.
"We started getting a little better after we got waxed a couple of times to start off with," Sloan said. "Everybody had us winning 70 or 80 games. I don't know what it was. I don't remember. You guys wrote it.
"So it looked like the season was over. But after you've been here a couple of years, you see what happens. You just have to be patient, and our guys were. They stayed together and tried to give themselves a chance to win."
Utah clamping down on 'D' this season
The Jazz's defense has improved so far in the 2010-11 season over the past four years, through 21 games:
Season Points FG% 3-pointers Record
2010-11 96.7 .429 .308 15-6
2009-10 98.9 .449 .354 53-29
2008-09 100.9 .464 .361 48-35
2007-08 99.3 .461 .357 54-28
2006-07 98.6 .455 .355 51-31
Jazz vs. Memphis
P At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • 7 p.m.
TV • Fox Sports Utah
Radio • 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM, network stations
Records • Jazz 15-6, Grizzlies 8-12
Season series • First meeting
Last meeting • Grizzlies, 91-89 (Jan. 8, 2010)
About the Jazz • They are 7-6 against Western Conference opponents. … They are 11-1 in their past 12 against Memphis. … They haven't lost two straight since the opening games of the season (Oct. 26-27). … G Deron Williams will make his 375th start in this game.
About the Grizzlies • They lost 108-107 in Denver on Sunday night. They are 3-3 in the second of back-to-back games. … They are led by F Rudy Gay (21.6 ppg). … F Zach Randolph averages 16.6 points, 11.4 rebounds. … Coach Lionel Hollins played at Dixie College.