This just in: Utah Jazz defense stout

Published: Sunday, Nov. 28 2010 12:20 a.m. MST

LOS ANGELES — The second unit has won over hearts, made headlines and turned into an energy-producing strength during the Utah Jazz's winning surge.

The team's better-known offensive talents — Deron Williams, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and C.J. Miles — have had strong outings.

And everybody in the NBA knows about this club's comeback powers, including the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and the other Staples Center occupants, the Clippers, whom the Jazz face this afternoon at 1:30.

But, get this: Some on the Jazz aren't even aware of their own fortitude in one area in which they're excelling.

Utah's defense has held opponents to NBA-low shooting percentages for field goals (.426) and 3-pointers (.287).

Along with those league-leading marks, the Jazz have limited nine of their last 10 foes to under 100 points.

"I didn't even know about it," Jefferson said.

Neither did Raja Bell and Jazz coach Jerry Sloan wasn't aware of the last part.

But it's true — even if nobody asked about it realized how well the Jazz are doing in those defensive categories. Ignorance is bliss, right?

"We're just playing defense, man," Jefferson said. "Making guys shoot contested shots ... trusting each other, helping."

That proved to be the difference in Friday's thrilling come-from-behind win over the Lakers. It was help defense — of the double-team variety — that led to the Jazz putting the clamps down on the Lakers after Kobe Bryant's 14-point explosion, which Jefferson referred to as a "video game moment."

L.A. didn't score a point in the final 2:32 — while Utah reeled off an 11-0 run — after Sloan changed the defensive strategy, forcing any Laker but Bryant to shoot at the end of the game.

It was a defensive gamble — one that Sloan recalled has failed in the past against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, and even last spring in the playoffs against the same Lakers.

"You have to give up something," Sloan said. "They missed shots. That's what you feel good about."

But the Jazz defense didn't just shine in those final moments. Utah gave up 33 points in the first quarter, then held L.A. to only 63 points in the final three.

The potent Lakers shot only 41.8 percent overall, including 19 percent when Utah charged back in the second quarter. L.A. was also held 15.5 points below the league-leading average of 115.5 ppg they had coming in. And Bryant's bunch shot a season-low 26.7 percent from 3-point land.

Sloan credited improved intensity for the turnaround — something that aptly applies across the board during the Jazz's defensive push the past 10 games.

"I don't know what to attribute that to," Bell said, "other than hard work."

"Just effort," Williams added. "We have great principles."

Such as?

Williams smiled and said, "We have a lot of principles."

Without detailing the defensive checklist, Williams provided a clue in this response: "As long as we go out and put the effort out and help each other out, we should hold teams to a pretty good field-goal percentage and then hold them under 100."

Williams wasn't the only one who mentioned the principles of hard work, the team concept and communication.

"You've got to have trust to know that if you go help, your teammate (is) going to help you," Jefferson said. "And I think that's what's been getting us over the edge the last couple of games, just helping each other and trusting each other."

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