SALT LAKE CITY — They didn't have much of a defense.
But the Jazz did make a great case that sometimes it's OK to be offensive and help yourself to whatever's available, which is precisely what they did in beating the New York Knicks 103-98 Monday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
The 49-26 Jazz helped themselves to an eighth straight win at home while improving to 27-2 there when scoring 100-plus.
They did it behind double-doubles from Carlos Boozer (26 points, 14 rebounds), Deron Williams (23 points, 14 assists) and Paul Millsap (14 points, 10 boards) — Boozer's 50th this season, Williams' 41st (it came before the first half was finished, something he's done three times this season) and Millsap's seventh.
They helped themselves by handing the 26-47 Knicks yet another loss, beneficial because Utah owns New York's 2010 NBA Draft lottery selection — and every Knicks defeat means a better chance for the Jazz to land a decent pick.
But, most importantly, they helped themselves move smack dab into first place in the NBA's Northwest Division — one game ahead of 48-27 Denver, which because of its 109-93 loss at Dallas on Monday actually slipped from third place to fifth place in the wacky Western Conference behind now fourth-place Phoenix.
It's the first time the Jazz — who are third in the West behind the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas — have led the division this season, and the first time since after games played on March 24, 2009.
"I'm glad we got the lead right now," said Boozer, dressed afterward in a photo-op T-shirt that read "CLINCHED" to signify the fact that on Sunday Utah notched its 24th postseason appearance in 27 years.
"Seven games left," Boozer added with reference to what little remains of the Jazz's 2009-10 season. "If we can hold onto it, it would be a big honor."
Boozer suggested he had no doubts about being able to pass Denver, saying, "All that matters is end-of-the-season record."
Fortunately for the Jazz, all that mattered Monday was that they won against a Knicks club that's now lost four straight in Utah.
"They (the Knicks) put a lot of pressure on our ability to shoot the ball," said coach Jerry Sloan, whose Jazz at times seemed befuddled by a Knicks' zone.
"The other thing," Sloan added, "is we had a terrible time defensively early on."
Scoring certainly wasn't problematic for the Jazz early on, when they shot 85 percent from the field while scoring a season-high number of points for a quarter with 44 in the first.
Utah also was 7-for-7 from 3-point range in that opening period, tying its franchise record for treys made in a period.
But the Jazz scored just 43 points in the second and third quarters combined, and they went into the fourth tied at 87.
"Some reason, I don't know what happened, they started to score and we really couldn't play good defense," Mehmet Okur said. "We couldn't really help each other. We gave them what they wanted out there."
Yet New York had seven chances in the final quarter either go ahead or tie the game again, and the Knicks couldn't take advantage of one.
A 10-2 run that started midway through the fourth gave the Jazz some separation, and they withstood a late Knicks flurry when Okur forced Danilo Gallinari into a backcourt violation off an in-bounds play with 8.2 seconds to go.
"At this point," said Okur, whose 13 points on 6-for-10 field shooting marked the fifth straight time and 14th in 15 games he's scored in double figures, "you've got to take the 'W' and move on."
That they are, with the designation of division leader in front of their name for the first time in what seems like forever.
"It's a great place to be," rookie Wesley Matthews said, "but our mentality can't change. We've got to keep grinding, keep working, keep pushing, keeping fighting and take everything game-by-game, and then everything will play itself out."
"We're happy with where we're at, but, at the same time, we've got to keep winning basketball games," added Williams, whose next comes when the Jazz close out a two-game home stay with Thursday's ESPN-televised visit from Golden State. "That's what it comes down to. We can't worry about other teams are doing."
The great race ...
... for the No. 2 seed
1. Lakers 54-20 —
2. Mavericks 49-25 5
3. Jazz49-26 5 1/2
4. Suns 47-26 6 1/2
5. Nuggets 48-27 6 1/2
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