SALT LAKE CITY — This New Jersey team is much better than the old Jersey team.
The Utah Jazz weren't surprised by that, especially considering well-respected Avery Johnson has taken over as the Nets' coach.
But that reality became evident Wednesday when it required the Jazz to hold on for a gut-check of a 98-88 win over the new-and-improved squad at EnergySolutions Arena.
It was also obvious seeing as Utah needed a solid night — double-digit scoring, in fact — from each and every starter to knock off the Nets.
"We had to play a pretty good game to be able to beat them," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "I thought they stayed in there. They're well coached, they did everything they could to get in the game."
Thanks to the most-balanced effort of the season by the 8-4 Jazz, however, the 4-7 Nets were simply outmatched down the stretch. Utah outscored N.J. 7-2 in the final two minutes to earn its sixth win in seven games.
All-Star point guard Deron Williams led the Jazz in bouncing back from Monday's streak-snapping loss to Oklahoma City with 23 points.
And he got plenty of scoring help from his fellow starters. Paul Millsap scored 19 points with 15 rebounds, Al Jefferson had 16 points and nine boards, while the returned-from-injury Raja Bell and Andrei Kirilenko each contributed 15 points apiece.
"Everybody played very unselfish, revolve the ball fast, getting that extra pass for the open shooter," Kirilenko said of the Jazz, who had 19 assists to New Jersey's 11.
"I think I liked it," he added, smiling. "... Tonight I think everybody (was) on the same level and that's why we got a lead."
Bell's contribution was especially beneficial.
The shooting guard, who missed Monday's game with a strained left adductor, has already shown how his feisty play can help the Jazz defensively.
And that helped in this one as the Jazz held the Nets to 37.6-percent shooting while also blocking 10 shots and totaling eight steals.
But Wednesday was a testament of how explosive the Jazz starters can be offensively when the opening lineup gets solid scoring contributions from all five, including Bell who hadn't hit double figures since opening night. His bucket with 2:03 remaining proved to be the back-breaker.
Even offensive production proved to be a winning formula for the Jazz in 2009-10. Utah went 17-1 when all five starters hit double digits in scoring.
"(Bell) stepped up big for us, hit some big-time shots," Jefferson said. "When he (is) hitting shots, we're a hard team to guard, you've got to pick and choose.
"Paul (was) continuing to do the same that he's been doing the last six/seven games," Jefferson added, "And D-Will is our leader. He takes over. We've just been clicking together."
Jefferson got a smile on his face when talking about the spread-out scoring, which he was happy to notice while glancing at the boxscore. The former Minnesota player loves being on a team that doesn't require him to carry the offensive burden on his shoulders every night.
Said Jefferson: "I was like, 'Wow, everybody just really stepped up.'"
And it was needed on this night.
Last year, the Jazz won their two blowouts over the Nets by an average of 24.5 points. But the future Brooklyn ballers were within five points with just over two minutes remaining in this competitive contest.
Quite the turnaround from the team that reached the four-win mark this season 2-1/2 months earlier than it did in 2009-10.
Anthony Morrow spearheaded the Nets' charge, exploding for 24 points and center Brook Lopez was a load to handle in the first half when he scored all 17 of his points.
As for the Jazz, they were so balanced they even got two points apiece from all five bench players who saw action.
Two of those points, by the way, were not like the others. Rookie Gordon Hayward, who came off the bench after getting his first start Monday, showed off his hops by exploding for a breakaway dunk after a steal late in the third quarter.
"It was nice," Williams said.
NOTES: Utah improved to 5-1 when holding its opponent to under 100 points. ... Former Jazz player Kris Humphries hauled in 15 rebounds with eight points for New Jersey. ... The Jazz shot a season-low 1-for-12 (.083) from 3-point land. Their previous low was a .214 percentage.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company