SALT LAKE CITY — Blocked shots.
They were a mostly missing element a season ago, when the Jazz averaged a mere 4.88 per game — as a team.
By way of perspective, retired center Mark Eaton averaged at least 3.4 himself for seven straight seasons beginning in 1982-83. Retired center Greg Ostertag averaged 2.73 — all by his lonesome — in 1998-99. And current starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko averaged at least 2.76 — again, by himself — for three straight seasons beginning in 2003-04. But the Jazz have gotten back to blocking their fair share so far this season, and the effort has gone a long way toward helping coach Jerry Sloan's club to a 14-5 start.
Utah turned away 10 Milwaukee shots in a 109-88 home win Monday, matching — thanks in part to the absence of injured Bucks big men Andrew Bogut, who didn't travel with the team due to a sore back, and Drew Gooden — its season high total one night after it also swatted eight in a road victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Jazz are now averaging 5.4 blocks per game this season. Moreover, they're 6-0 in games when they've blocked seven or more.
"It helps keep (opponent) field-goal percentage down," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said on a night Milwaukee hit just 34.7 percent from the field.
Kirilenko and starting center Al Jefferson swatted four each Monday, a season high-matching total for Kirilenko and a season high for Jefferson. Attitude, it seems, has a lot to do with it.
"We've just got to be there to help our teammates," Jefferson said. "Guys are just closing in on the ball. R.P. (reserve combo guard Ronnie Price) gets his chase-down blocks. (Backup point guard) Earl (Watson) got a block tonight. But everybody else is just closing in on the ball the right way," swingman C.J. Miles added. "Our rotations have been right. Maybe you're a step late, but instead of giving up on the play we just keep going after it — and that's what's happening."
Some of it happens naturally, as is the case with Kirilenko. Mostly, though, it takes some effort.
"I don't know that you can all of a sudden become a shot-blocker. You have to have that tendency to start with," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "You know, Andrei's always been a guy that can block shots — and he made some plays (Monday) to help win the ballgame because of it."
When the lanky Russian gets to swatting with regularity, it can get contagious.
Such seemed to be the case Monday, when power forward Paul Millsap added one block as well. "Andrei — him getting the ball is like an engine starting," Miles said. "It gets the crowd into it, it gets us into it. Those are one of those 'big' plays. It's just as big as a dunk." Kirilenko's blocks come mostly from the weak side. Ditto for Millsap. But Jefferson's tend to be more on the ball, something Utah lacked when two-time All-Star Carlos Boozer averaged just 0.46 as their starting power forward last season and a frequently injured Kirilenko averaged a team-high 1.22.
"We didn't block any shots last year," Sloan said. "We weren't very big."
"Booz (Boozer) didn't block many shots," point guard Deron Williams added. "He got a lot of steals, but he wasn't a shot-blocker."
When the Jazz block seven or more shots in a game this season, they're 6-0:
Nov. 6 — Jazz 109, Clippers 107 — seven blocks
Nov. 13 — Jazz 96, Bobcats 95 — seven blocks
Nov. 17 — Jazz 98, Nets 88 — 10 blocks
Nov. 22 — Jazz 94, Kings 83 — nine blocks
Sunday — Jazz 109, Clippers 97 — eight blocks
Monday — Jazz 109, Bucks 88 — 10 blocks