Jazz: 'On a mission'
Toronto » If they have to clear out of EnergySolutions Arena for the NCAA Tournament, the Jazz have resolved that coming home with anything short of a 3-0 mark from their last Eastern Conference trip of the season is unacceptable.
They took the first step Wednesday night, pulverizing the Toronto Raptors 113-87 at Air Canada Centre for their third consecutive victory. The Jazz never trailed and built a 27-point lead in what appeared the toughest game of their trip going in.
"These are all winnable games, but they're also dangerous ballgames," Deron Williams said. "I thought this was the most important one just to set the tone, set the tempo for the whole trip. I thought we did a great job."
The Jazz had seven players score in double figures, led by Williams with 18 points and 16 assists and Carlos Boozer with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
They will finish their trip this weekend at Indiana and Washington, which are a combined 28 games under .500.
Amid reports that Nuggets coach George Karl won't return until the playoffs as he undergoes cancer treatment, the Jazz drew even Wednesday with Denver in the standings at 47-25. The Nuggets fell 113-99 in Boston.
Although Denver holds the tiebreaker over the Jazz after winning the season series 3-1, the Nuggets still have games left at Toronto, Orlando and Dallas to finish a five-game trip. The Jazz trail No. 2 Dallas by just a half-game as well.
"It's going to be tough," Williams said. "We have to take care of business. We're going to need some help, but the most important thing is that we win out, win as many games as possible."
"It's huge for us," Boozer added. "We've got two more games on this trip. We possibly can go home and we have moved up a spot or two. For us, it's monumental ... and I hope that we can keep playing the way we're playing."
It also was the Jazz's 10th consecutive victory over Toronto, which hasn't beaten Utah since a 98-86 victory Dec. 22, 2004. They also own a 10-game winning streak over Detroit, the only two teams Williams never has lost to in his career.
The Jazz dominated all first quarter, which they won 33-17. C.J. Miles streaked to the basket for a dunk only 10 seconds into the game and Toronto called timeout just 3:29 in after Williams pulled up and drained a jumper to make it 10-2.
Even against a Toronto team giving up 105.7 points on average this season, the Jazz were special. Wesley Matthews' second 3-pointer of the quarter came with 10.9 seconds left as Williams collapsed the defense on a drive and found him open.
With Williams on the bench, the Jazz opened the second quarter with an 8-4 burst to take a 41-21 lead. Ronnie Price soared for a follow-up after Kyle Korver missed a 3-pointer. Korver hit a jumper and ran for a layup after a Sonny Weems turnover.
Trailing by 20 points after just 15 minutes, the Raptors called timeout to boos. They scored nine unanswered points, but Miles buried a 3-pointer to blunt the comeback. Even with Boozer exiting with his third foul with 3:02 left, the Jazz still finished the half impressively.
Williams hit a jumper as the Jazz played the two-for-one possession game, then got a runner to fall as part of a three-point play to make it 61-43. "His line is deceiving, 18 and 16," Raptors coach Jay Triano said of Williams. "He was better than that."
Williams was so aggressive, he tried to push 1-on-4 with another two-for-one opportunity presenting itself late in the third quarter with the Jazz leading by 23. He lost the ball for a turnover, but Williams set an unmistakable tone.
"However he goes, that's how we go," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said, "and I thought he played extremely well."
The Raptors (35-35) came out in a zone defense to open the second half, then switched Weems to guard Williams instead of Jose Calderon, who went 1-for-6 in the first half. The Jazz still scored on five consecutive possessions as well as seven of eight during one stretch.
"I thought they had been playing well coming into this game," Williams said of the Raptors, who are fighting for a playoff spot, "but we're just on a mission, it seems like."
In short » The Jazz never trail in opening their three-game trip with an emphatic victory over Toronto.
Key moment » Deron Williams closes the first half by pulling up for a jumper and attacking for a three-point play to give Utah a 61-43 lead.
The Jazz would be one of the four Western Conference teams with home-court advantage in the first round.
|1. L.A. Lakers||52||18||--|
|2. Dallas||47||24||5 ½|