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Utah Jazz excited about defense, not preseason record

Published: Monday, July 6 2015 1:51 a.m. MDT

Utah Jazz's Deron Williams, right, goes up for a basket as he is defended by the Lakers' Lamar Odom in the first half.     (Associated Press) Utah Jazz's Deron Williams, right, goes up for a basket as he is defended by the Lakers' Lamar Odom in the first half. (Associated Press)

ANAHEIM, Calif — It sure looks good on paper.

But it's not, however, their franchise-best 7-0 preseason start that has them most excited.

Rather, it's what they saw on the floor from the first unit in particular that had coach Jerry Sloan and point guard Deron Williams feeling best after their 82-74 exhibition win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night at the Honda Center here.

"I thought they tried to do some of the things we wanted to do," Sloan said of Williams, shooting guard Raja Bell, small forward Andrei Kirilenko, power forward Paul Millsap and center Al Jefferson. "I thought they really tried to help each other defensively. I thought that was about as lively as we've been defensively."

C.J. Miles had a team-high 14 points off the bench, Jefferson scored 13, Kirilenko had 11 and Williams added 10 for the Jazz.

The number that mattered most to them than all those, though, had to be the Lakers' 33.3 percent shooting from the field.

"Our first group is looking pretty good, I think," said Williams, who returned after missing road wins Saturday over the Los Angeles Clippers and Sunday over the Lakers due to a strained right calf muscle. "You know, the timing's still not there and we're getting a lot of turnovers (18 total Tuesday) because of timing issues.

"But, for the most part, we played hard. I think Al (Jefferson) is doing a great job on defense. His length helps. He can block shots, and that's something we missed a lot last year.

The way A.K. (Kirilenko) played was great. We've got C.J. (Miles) coming off the bench right now giving us that spark. You know, we're happy with where are.

"The timing issues are gonna get better as we get more used to playing with each other. The (good defense now) is what we'd rather have anyway," Williams added. "We're not gonna have any trouble scoring points. We can give it to Big Al on the block and let him get a bucket. I know I can create people shots for other people, and I'm gonna get my own shots. We've just got to keep playing defense."

Jefferson did frighten the Jazz, though, when he hurt his right hand late in the third quarter and did not return.

The Jazz initially said he had a bruised knuckle, but Jefferson later indicated the pain actually was on the padding underneath the knuckle on his right index finger.

"It feels good," Jefferson said. "It's sore. But I hurt it the first preseason game, and it's kind of like 'it's never gonna heal,' because that ball always is gonna hit right there.

"Tonight I just bent it all the way back, and it was just fast. I can play with it regardless, but it's never gonna heal. It's something I'm gonna have to just suck up and deal with."

Millsap gave the Jazz another scare in the opening half, but he returned for the second after sustaining a right-side back muscle strain.

Beyond the injuries, Sloan was pleased as Kobe Bryant — who scored all of his 19 Sunday in the third quarter — mustered just seven points and no one with the Lakers scored more than 13.

"It looked we tried harder (than Sunday)," Sloan said, "to help each other tonight."

Williams, meanwhile, was happy as well that his calf held up just fine.

"It didn't bother me at all," he said. "I figured the days off would help."

Williams said he wanted to play over the weekend, but suggested it was wiser sitting out even if it does mean — because he'll miss Friday's preseason finale at home due to personal reasons — that he'll play with the rest of the starters just once in Utah's final four exhibitions.

"I don't like to sit down," he said. "I wish I could be on the court, but I had to sit out. The doctor recommended it, so I did it."

NOTES: Veteran center Francisco Elson played his first game for the Jazz after missing the preseason's first six due to a strained right hamstring. He finished with five rebounds in 11 minutes. Forward Jeremy Evans returned after sitting out Sunday due to flu-like symptoms. After scoring a team-high 26 Sunday, fellow rookie Gordon Hayward was 0-for-5 from the field. ... On-the-bubble roster hopefuls Sundiata Gaines, Othyus Jeffers, Demetris Nichols and Ryan Thompson all did not play (coach's decision). Ronnie Price backed up Williams first Tuesday, but Earl Watson closed. The two are battling for the No. 2 spot behind Williams. ... Millsap played with a bandage with under his right eye to cover a cut sustained Sunday.

e-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com

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