Utah rides improved defense into New York
As the regular season reaches the stretch drive, the Utah Jazz are attempting to secure a playoff spot, and their defense is clamping down on opponents.
The improved defense has the Jazz on a four-game winning streak and attempting to get another win Wednesday night when they visit the league-worst New York Knicks.
Utah (41-29) has held opponents to 100 or fewer points in each of the four games and in a season-best five straight games. During its third winning streak of at least four games, Utah is allowing 97.5 points, 41.5 percent shooting and 30.2 percent from 3-point range, leading to a 96.3 defensive rating.
Before a 98-89 loss to Oklahoma City on March 11, the Jazz had won six of 10 games, but allowed 110.7 points per game while scoring 117 points over that span.
The latest instance of Utah's defensive proficiency occurred Monday when the Jazz held Bradley Beal to 15 points on 4-of-12 shooting and opened a four-game trip with a 116-95 rout of the Washington Wizards.
The Jazz also shot 53.8 percent, improving to 21-1 when shooting at least 50 percent.
"We moved the ball," Jazz coach Quin Snyder told reporters after the game. "We're an unselfish team and we get sloppy at certain points, but for the most part, we did a good job. If we can generate open jump shots, that's great. Particularly, if we're attacking the rim and guys are making the extra pass, it gives you confidence when you shoot the ball."
Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 19 points, just missing out on a seventh straight game with at least 20 points. He is averaging 27.0 points in his last nine games and has scored at least 20 points in 28 of his last 31 games.
Jae Crowder added 18 points off the bench on Monday and played extensively in the second half when the Jazz gave Derrick Favors a chance to rest a minor hamstring injury that is not expected to keep him out of Wednesday.
Rudy Gobert heads into Wednesday with five straight double-doubles after totaling 14 points and 14 rebounds Monday and being named Western Conference Player of the Week. He also has 56 double-doubles, two behind league leader Andre Drummond.
The Knicks (14-57) are 2 1/2 games ahead of the Phoenix Suns in the "race" for the league's worst record. They are 1-9 since getting consecutive home wins over San Antonio and Orlando on Feb. 24 and 26.
In that stretch, New York is averaging 101.2 points and 16.5 turnovers while shooting 43.3 percent, a figure slightly inflated by Sunday's 124-123 home win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
New York is starting a six-game homestand and returning home after an ugly 128-92 loss at Toronto on Monday. In their most lopsided defeat of the season, the Knicks were held below 100 points for the sixth time in seven games, shot a season-low 32.9 percent, were outrebounded 50-36 and gave up 21 points off 14 turnovers.
New York's starters totaled 44 points and coach David Fizdale is hoping for improvement Wednesday after pulling them 65 seconds into the second half.
"Not getting it done," Fizdale told reporters of his decision to pull the starters. "Not playing at a level I want to see the game played at. Everyone out there owned it. I can't waste a minute to let them wallow."
The Knicks were without Dennis Smith Jr. (sore back) and Noah Vonleh (sprained right ankle). Smith missed his third straight game while Vonleh sat for the second straight contest. Both players are day-to-day.
The Jazz are attempting to sweep the season for the third time in five seasons. On Dec. 29, Gobert totaled 25 points and 16 rebounds as Utah shot 54.8 percent and outrebounded the Knicks 60-35 in a 129-97 rout.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 19, 2019