The rebuilding Utah Jazz knew it was going to be a long and difficult season.
But this long?
And this difficult?
New York became the latest opponent to befuddle Utah on Monday night.
Carmelo Anthony scored 34 points — as many as the Jazz managed as a team in the second half — and the Knicks cruised to a 92-83 victory at EnergySolutions Arena.
Utah suffered its 16th loss in the last 18 games, including five in a row.
The Jazz remain last in the Western Conference with a record of 23-52, which is a good for position in the draft lottery but difficult for the players experiencing one of the worst stretches in franchise history.
“It’s very difficult ... and frustrating,” said Gordon Hayward, who finished with 18 points but missed nine of his 14 field-goal attempts.
“It’s a little discouraging, but you can’t allow yourself to get discouraged,” said rookie point guard Trey Burke. “You have to play through it. Simple as it is, you’ve got to keep playing.”
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin tried to be positive.
“We just have to keep fighting — trying to get better,” he said. “... We are who we are.”
If the Jazz could take comfort from anything in another loss, it’s the fact the Knicks needed a vintage performance from Anthony to overcome an early 10-point deficit.
Through three quarters, he scored 32 points in 32 minutes, leading New York to a victory it badly needed in its race toward a possible berth in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“The man is easily one of top three scorers in the world,” said Utah’s Marvin Williams. “... He’s just so big and so strong. I was just trying to stay physical with him and make sure he didn’t get anything easy. For the most part, I was trying to contest as much as I could. I thought I did a pretty good job.”
Anthony still made 11 of 19 field-goal attempts, including 4-for-7 from the 3-point line.
Asked about Williams’ defensive effort, Corbin said, “He made him work. That’s all you can really ask. ... Carmelo is a dynamic scorer. He’s going to score. He’s going to get attempts and he’s going to score points. But I thought our guys did a good job of making him work.”
The Jazz built a 40-30 lead midway through the second quarter before New York scored eight straight points to stay close.
Utah owned a 49-48 halftime lead and it was tied, 67-67, when Hayward missed two free throws with 3:56 remaining in the third quarter.
That was all the Knicks needed.
The Jazz converted only one of their final eight possessions and Anthony’s 3-pointer capped a quarter-ending 12-2 run.
Game, set and match.
“It’s happened to us the last few games,” Corbin said. “We hit that little lull and just can’t score and that’s the difference in the game for us. It happened again tonight.
Hayward credited the Knicks, but noted the Jazz didn’t execute on offense during the critical stretch.
“For whatever reason ... we didn’t make plays,” he said. “That’s on us — getting to our spots early and making sharp cuts. We have to make sure we do everything with a purpose. I mean, their defense was trying to take us out of it, but we have to be more physical and get to where we want to go.”
Said Corbin: “We didn’t back down. We didn’t make the plays, but the guys fought.”
Storylines Knicks 92, Jazz 83
R Carmelo Anthony scores 34 points to lead New York past Utah.
• Utah loses for the 16th time in its last 18 games and falls to 23-52 this season.
O The Knicks are putting pressure on Atlanta for the last Eastern playoff spot. > www.sltrib.com