The Utah Jazz are enjoying their best run of the season, largely because they’ve done a better job of stopping opposing offenses.
It wouldn’t take much on defense to top their last effort against the New York Knicks.
With a nine-game home winning streak on the line, the Jazz on Wednesday night look to avenge one of their worst defensive performances of the season when they face the Knicks.
Utah (27-18) is coming off perhaps its best game of the season, never trailing in a 97-91 win over defending champion San Antonio on Monday night in a rematch of last spring’s Western Conference finals. The Jazz held the Spurs to 41.9 percent shooting (31-for-74) and moved into first place in the Northwest Division.
It was the latest victory at EnergySolutions Arena for Utah, which has a chance to win 10 straight at home for the first time since March 9-April 17, 1999. The Jazz have held their opponent to 91 points or less in five of their last seven home games.
“I think our team is playing well because that’s what happens when you play better defensively,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “It’s a lot of work to play defense.”
The Jazz have been inconsistent on defense, allowing 100.0 points per game this season. They’ve surrendered 110 points or more 11 times, including on Nov. 26 in a 113-109 defeat to the Knicks (14-30).
It was the second-highest point total in regulation this season for New York, which is averaging just 94.5 points a contest. The Jazz have lost six of their last seven games versus the Knicks, and dropped four of five at home against them before a 104-102 overtime win on Feb. 10.
New York, however, has lost 11 straight road games to Western Conference opponents since beating the Los Angeles Lakers 107-106 on Feb. 13. That skid was extended Tuesday night with a 120-109 loss to the Lakers.
The Knicks have lost two straight overall on the road after winning three of their previous four. They’re 4-16 away from Madison Square Garden this season, allowing 104.2 points per game.
Tuesday’s contest will be the third stop of a five-game road trip for New York. The Knicks had been playing well, winning five of seven before opening this trip with a 106-104 loss to Golden State on Sunday night.
Much-maligned New York coach Isiah Thomas believes his team’s work ethic gives it a chance to put together a strong second half.
“I think we’ve basically been playing with a lot more honest effort,” said Thomas, whose team has the East’s second-worst record. “Are we so far in the hole that we can’t get out of it? I don’t know. There is a commitment and a willingness in the locker room to play better basketball.”
The Knicks have matched a season high by topping 100 points in consecutive games. Against the Jazz in November, they shot 53.2 percent from the field (42-for-79) - their second-best mark this season - and had three players score over 20 points.
Jamal Crawford had 22 points for New York in that game, and he matched that total on Tuesday. He leads the Knicks with 19.9 points and 4.7 assists a game.
New York will be without forward Renaldo Balkman after he was suspended one game Wednesday for committing a flagrant foul against Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic on Tuesday. Balkman, a second-year reserve, is averaging 2.9 points and 2.8 rebounds.