Newark, N.J. • Leave it to Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. Devin Harris, C.J. Miles, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and everyone else representing the Jazz on Deron Williams’ home court.
A little more than 24 hours after suffering their biggest heartbreak of the season - a quadruple-overtime road defeat to Atlanta - Utah did everything it was supposed to Monday. The Jazz frustrated and contained Williams. They shut down potential New Jersey X-factors Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries. And by the time Utah’s 105-84 victory against the Nets at Prudential Center was complete, the Jazz (27-23) were back on track.
Utah’s locker room was focused but loose. Coach Tyrone Corbin praised his team’s will and fight. And a team’s that won seven of eight moved to 1-1 on its three-game East Coast road trip, putting the Hawks in the rearview and eyeing a pivotal matchup Wednesday at Boston.
"Just to come out and get the win here [Monday] after a tough loss [Sunday] and traveling over here shows what these guys are all about," Corbin said. "The character that they have and how much we’re growing as a group, and how much we count on each other and encourage each other to get better."
Even with the history-making loss to Atlanta, Utah’s still the second-hottest team in the NBA. San Antonio’s the only other club 8-2 in its last 10, while the Jazz maintained a three-way tie with Houston and Denver for seventh place in the Western Conference, just a game behind the fourth-place Los Angeles Clippers.
Millsap again guided Utah. He recorded game-highs in points (24) and rebounds (13), while shooting 10 of 14 from the field. The Warrior continued to excel with the ball in his hands, mixing mid-range jumpshots and strong putbacks with swift drives off the dribble. And he poured in 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting during the fourth quarter, when the Jazz outscored New Jersey 33-19 and closed down a contest that saw the Nets pull within 72-69 early in the period.
"Paul continue[s] to get better, man. He understand[s] the moment. He understand[s] where we are as a team and how we have to continue to be strong inside," Corbin said. "And then he does a great job defensively. But offensively, he’s doing a really good job of reading, running the pick-and-roll … and [knowing] when to cut and when to space. And when Al has the ball in the post, how to dive in there and occupy his man."
During the last two weeks, Utah’s offense has only gotten sharper while the team’s defense has only become tougher. So it went Monday. The Nets (16-35) are bad enough by themselves. But Utah limited New Jersey to just 35.8 percent shooting from the field and 23.8 percent behind the 3-point line. Throw in the Jazz’s 58-44 scoring advantage in the paint and the fact Utah dished out 29 assists on 42 made baskets, and a team fighting for a postseason spot continued to look playoff-worthy.
"They’re playing solid basketball on both ends of the floor now," said Williams, who was held to 7-of-21 shooting for 17 points and a co-game high 11 assists. "Coach Corbin’s done a good job of leading the guys, and they’ve got a good mix of veterans and youth, and I think it’s working for them."
Fourteen months ago, the Jazz’s 2010-11 season fell apart on a four-game East Coast road trip. Utah fractured, dropping all four contests, and former coach Jerry Sloan realized he’d started to lose his team. By late February, Sloan and Williams were gone, and the Jazz were directionless.
A year later, Utah’s stronger than it was at any point during 2010-11. The Jazz are deeper, more cohesive and more confident. And Utah’s power is divided, shared by everyone from Corbin, Millsap and Jefferson to Harris, Hayward and Burks.
The Jazz have 16 games to go in a lockout-shortened season. Their primary goal’s within sight.
"Every one of our wins is a team win," Jefferson said. "We don’t have a Kobe Bryant or a LeBron James on this team, so we’re at our best when we play together."
Raja Bell will not travel with the Jazz to Boston. The veteran guard will fly to Miami for a third opinion on his left knee. Bell could undergo season-ending microfracture surgery, but said Sunday an operation is a last resort. … Earl Watson was Harris’ primary backup against the Nets, playing 18 minutes and 24 seconds, while Jamaal Tinsley only clocked 2:46. … All 12 active Jazz players took the court and no one played more than 32:33. … Gerald Green led New Jersey with 20 points.
Jazz-Nets box score: http://bit.ly/GTMDu3
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