New York • Jazz guard Raja Bell said it’s non-negotiable.
If Utah attacks from the opening tip, then plays with passion and energy for 48 minutes, a team stuck between rebuilding through youth and riding its veteran horses has a legitimate chance to win any contest it plays.
If the Jazz don’t — if they walk through plays, take precious game minutes for granted and expect ailing opponents to simply give way during a lockout-shortened season — they will pay a heavy price. Games will be lost, defeats will pile up and a squad that began the year surprising the NBA will soon be on the bottom, looking up.
That’s where the Jazz ended Monday at Madison Square Garden. Knicks guard Jeremy Lin was the one-night MVP of New York City, and Utah scored 22 points or less in three of four quarters on its way to a humbling 99-88 defeat.
“We can’t afford to get away with some of those things that other teams might be able to get away with on a night and just be able to outscore someone to get back in it,” Bell said. “We have to hang our hat on doing [the right] things.”
Al Jefferson’s 22 points topped the Jazz (13-10), who committed 31 fouls and 20 turnovers while continuing to struggle from the 3-point line, shooting just 18.2 percent (2 of 11).
Coach Tyrone Corbin appeared more frustrated after the loss than he’s been since Utah started the season 1-3, with all three losses coming via road blowouts. Key veterans such as Earl Watson and Bell were even more tense.
Bell said Utah doesn’t have enough starpower and is too young to simply mess around, acknowledging he’s seen slippage as the team has lost three of four games and six of 10. Watson was equally direct, saying a Jazz team still searching for its identity has a more pressing issue to deal with.
“We’ve [gotten] to the point of the season where our accountability has got to start growing. Our accountability has got to go to another level. It can’t stay the same,” Watson said. “If it stays the same, teams are going to pass us.
“Sometimes it’s tough when you want to do something special and it’s time for accountability. … But that’s a part of life and it’s part of maturing and it’s a part of accomplishing amazing things in this sport, and that’s what we have to get to as a whole.”
There was little accountability by the Jazz on Monday. And after Lin electrified MSG by dropping in a career- and game-high 28 points in the same contest Knicks All-NBA forward Carmelo Anthony left just 5 minutes, 49 seconds into the first quarter due to a right groin strain, almost everybody inside Utah’s locker room was slumped while heads hung low once the media was allowed inside.
No Melo, no Amar’e Stoudemire (personal reasons) and no win?
Watson paused and sighed while staring straight ahead.
“Major missed opportunity,” he said.
A 35-point third quarter gave the Jazz life, and Utah pulled within 80-78 with 9:14 to go. But the speedy, shifty and fearless Lin had just gotten started.
Making his starting debut for New York (10-15) one game after scoring a then-career-high 25 points Saturday against New Jersey, the Golden State castoff burned the Jazz for 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting during a fourth quarter that saw the Knicks outscore Utah 24-15. Lin hit two 3-pointers and converted two three-point plays during the period, dancing inside The World’s Most Famous Arena while the Jazz fell backward.
“Basketball is fun when you play on a team that wants to work together, work through tough times and have victories like this one,” Lin said.
No one in Jazzland believes it’s time to panic. But with a 16-7 Indiana team waiting Wednesday, 18-5 Oklahoma City on the schedule Friday and an imposing slate of road games on the horizon, Bell also knows Utah doesn’t have time to waste.
“We have relapses. … That’s the reality of it,” Bell said. “If we’re going to sugarcoat it as a team, we’re never going to understand the severity of it. We just need to get back to doing [the right things]. We’ve done them. We just need to get back to it.”
Notes • Utah reserve point guard Jamaal Tinsley won’t travel with the team to Indiana. Tinsley, who is from Brooklyn, will remain in New York to deal with a family-related matter.
Jazz-Knicks boxscore: http://bit.ly/yFRJkm