PHOENIX — They have yielded 108, 103 and 105 points in their last three losses.

That's not to mention the 110 they gave up in their last win, over Houston on Saturday night.

Playing a Phoenix Suns team that was averaging an NBA-leading 109.2 points per game heading into its visit with the Los Angeles on Wednesday night, one they will face again just more than two weeks from tonight, that doesn't bode particularly well for the 38-22 Jazz.

Moreover, it's a big reason Utah isn't just looking ahead in the Western Conference standings at the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas and Denver — and instead now has Phoenix and even Oklahoma City on its tail.

"We just know every game is important right now, this late in the season," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said. "You know, as close as the West is, every game is important, so we just want to go and win."

If there's a trend or two or three in the current rash of losing — Utah has lost three of its last five games, including ones to the well-below-.500 Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night and also lottery-bound Sacramento on Friday night — Williams has a good hunch as to what they may be.

"We have to play better defense, you know, throughout the whole game — especially at the start of games," he said. "We've gotten down early, and it's been hard to come back.

"Defense and energy," Williams added. "It seems like we don't have much energy. It doesn't (help) that I haven't played well the last two road games, so, as a group, we've got to come out to a better start, get going earlier, and hopefully that can carry us through."

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, for his part, has no doubt about what the biggest problem has been.

He's preached about its importance since before the season started and probably will continue to do so even after the season ends.

It, of course, is defense.

Some of the Jazz's problems start on the offensive end of the floor and bleed into the other.

"How many fast breaks did they get, where we couldn't get back down the floor, after we took a bad shot?" Sloan asked shortly after watching tape from the Clippers loss. "Those things hurt you and always have. It's a matter of realizing that and not getting crazy, running all over the place."

Mostly, though, it's centered on the defensive end.

That's where the Jazz are yielding 97.58 points per game this season, just more than three off Charlotte's NBA-best average for opponent scoring but roughly middle of the pack for a team accustomed to being among the league leaders in that statistical category.

"The last two games we lost, we've been very poor defensively," Sloan said. "Our numbers haven't been good on the defensive end of the floor. ... We've scored enough points, but our defense has been atrocious, and that wasn't just one or two guys. It's the whole team.

"That's the thing the concerns you the most, because when you get out on the road," added Sloan, whose Jazz play nine of their next 14 away from home, "you've got to be able to execute, and you have to have good shot selection — but you've also got to be able to defend."

And if they can do just that, the Jazz coach suggested, perhaps Utah can secure its claim on a top-four finish in the West without worrying about who's chasing from behind.

"I don't think you put all your emphasis on one game. It's not the end of the world," Sloan said. "If you recover, or continue to play well, it will work itself out.

"But if you get in a slump where you're not defending or you're not doing the things that are necessary, then it will be a problem."

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