Defense continues to be Utah Jazz's calling card

Defense continues to be Utah Jazz's calling card

SALT LAKE CITY — When he was coaching, Jerry Sloan humorously pointed out that you never see kids in the driveway practicing playing defense.

Working on defensive drills isn’t as fun as launching long bombs from the gutter or front porch, after all.

Even so, this current Utah Jazz group has clearly practiced playing defense.

That became quite evident this weekend when the Jazz held Orlando to 10 points in the fourth quarter and limited the Heat to 12 points in the third quarter.

Both of those defensive spurts led to Jazz victories as the team wrapped up a 4-1 East Coast trip. Utah will play for the first time at home in more than a week when it hosts Memphis (4-5) on Monday at Vivint Arena.

While it helped that neither of the Florida teams are very good right now, Utah’s level of defense has also steadily improved as this season has progressed. That’s especially true now that Gordon Hayward, their best wing defender, is back in the rotation. (Conversely, it might be hard to continue if Derrick Favors and George Hill miss more time because of injuries.)

Sloan would be proud.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder is pleased his players have bought into the defensive philosophy that he’s been preaching for three years.

It’s helped the Jazz transform into a top-five defense 11 games into the 2016-17 season. Utah has improved its defensive rating to 99.4 (points per 100 possessions), which trails only the Clippers (92.7), Hawks (95.8), Hornets (98.0) and Thunder (98.5).

“We have to keep working on it,” Snyder said. “That is hopefully what our identity is and that is what we want it to be. That is who we need to be and that is what our strength is with Rudy (Gobert) and our guys on the ball (defensively). We need to make it hard on people.”

It’s doing that consistently that will help the 7-4 Jazz continue to surge into the upper echelon of the Western Conference standings.

“We’ve just got to do it every night,” Gobert said. “If we start doing it every night, it’s going to become a habit. Then we’re going be very good.”

Shooting guard Rodney Hood agreed that defense is contagious. When one guy plays all-out, it makes others want to replicate that. And Utah has the tools (size, length and speed) at most positions to cause havoc when all of the players buy in at the same time.

“We know that’s our calling card,” Hood said. “When we get the stops, we’re one of the most dangerous teams in the league because we get out and we run and we finish in transition and we play well with each other after misses. That’s the biggest thing for us is making teams make tough shots.”

That certainly happened over the weekend when Utah held the Magic to 74 points and the Heat to 91. Utah also held Philadelphia to 84 points on this trip. The Knicks (109) and Hornets (104) games were reminders that it’s not completely habitual yet.

Hayward said the Jazz had a defensive mentality coming out of the locker room after halftime in Saturday’s win. The Magic didn’t score for nearly six minutes and either turned it over or missed shots on their first 11 possessions of the third quarter as Utah blew open a close game.

“We wanted to get stops and I think that’s what we did,” Hayward said. “We were able to guard and we were able to get some easy stuff. Kind of went from there. We pulled ahead, but it all started on the defensive end.”

JAZZ NOTES: It’s uncertain whether Derrick Favors (knee soreness), George Hill (thumb) or Boris Diaw (leg one contusion) will be available for Monday’s game. … Miami center Hassan Whiteside voiced his displeasure about the officiating after the Jazz beat the Heat on Saturday. Regarding Hayward, the Miami center said, “He might shoot free throws for this interview.” Hayward shot a whopping five free throws, all one and-one situations. … Whiteside added this about the Jazz: “They got to the free-throw line too many times.” Both Miami and Utah shot 19 free throws.

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Published at Sun, 13 Nov 2016 22:49:00 +0000