Utah Jazz must find their lost defense to stay in playoff chase
NBA • Utah struggled with defensive help, communication in loss to Suns.
Published: April 6, 2012 07:21AM
Updated: April 6, 2012 07:22AM
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Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Jazz power forward Paul Millsap (24) steals the ball from Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash (13) during the second half of the game at EnergySolutions Arena Wednesday April 4, 2012. Phoenix won the game 107-105.

At the worst possible time, the Jazz’s defense has gone missing.

Just when it appeared Utah was favorably positioned for a run at the Western Conference playoffs, opponents started scoring like the Jazz are playing arena league football, not NBA basketball.

In its past four games, which included last-second home-court losses to Sacramento and Phoenix, Utah has allowed an average of 104.5 points.

“We have to be tougher on the ball,” said coach Tyrone Corbin. “We have to take the assignments personally — you and your man. …

“It’s that time of year where everything has to be up a notch. And we have to figure out how to get there with our young group of guys.”

Utah’s struggle on defense was never more apparent than during a 107-105 loss to Phoenix on Wednesday night.

Seven Suns reached double figures, led by Michael Redd, who scored 19 points.

Phoenix owned a 97-87 lead with 6:36 remaining and finished with 107 points despite milking the shot clock for most of the final six minutes as the Suns tried to hold off a Jazz rally.

“We have to talk more — help each other more,” Utah forward Paul Millsap said.“ … We just do [better] to limit open looks.”

Against the up-tempo Suns, Millsap said, “We got caught into playing their basketball — taking quick shots. We have to do what we do — pound the ball inside and kick it out to open jump shooters. Just be us.”

Phoenix converted three of its last four possessions against Utah, although one was a shot-clock-beating prayer by Channing Frye.

In the final 14 seconds, however, Steve Nash got open looks and buried two medium-range jump shots.

Nash’s first jumper came when Frye set a solid screen on Earl Watson and Al Jefferson couldn’t make the switch quickly enough.

Nash’s game-winner came after he split two defenders and found himself alone at the free-throw line.

“Every play means a lot,” Corbin said. “You can’t take a play off. And it can’t be one guy. It’s got to be all five guys on the floor in tune to what you’re doing — on the ball, weakside, where your man is, rotation-wise. The split second you relax, that’s when you get beat.”

Heading into Friday night’s game against the high-scoring Warriors, Utah is eighth in the league in scoring defense. It allows 99.1 points per game.

Only Minnesota, Cleveland, Washington, Golden State, Charlotte, Denver and Sacramento are more porous. Among those teams, only the Nuggets still have playoff aspirations.

“Phoenix did it, [and] so did Sacramento,” Corbin said. “We can’t afford to play the tempo that is favorable to other teams. We have to understand who we are: a half-court, executing offensive team.

“We slow down other offenses by making them play defense against our half-court sets. When we take early shots and speed up the game to their tempo, then we struggle a little bit.”

Warriors at Jazz

P At EnergySolutions Arena

Tipoff • 7 p.m.

TV • ROOT Sports

Radio • 1320 AM, 98.7 FM

Records • Jazz 28-27, Warriors 21-32

Season series • Jazz lead, 2-1

Last meeting • Jazz, 99-92 (March 17)

About the Jazz • They are 19-8 at home. … They are 5-6 in games decided by three points or less. … They are 18-20 against Western Conference opponents. … G Devin Harris (ankle) will be a game-time decision. … In the past two games, F Paul Millsap has averaged 28 points on 23 of 35 shooting.

About the Warriors • They are 4-11 since trading Monta Ellis on March 13. … They have lost six of their past seven. … Former U. of U. star center Andrew Bogut, acquired in the Ellis trade, remains sidelined with a fractured ankle. … G Stephen Curry won’t play (ankle). … F David Lee averages 20.1 points and 9.6 rebounds.