Jazz Stay Hot, Hang On To Beat Wizards
Utah 97, Washington 89
WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 (Ticker) -- Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko had the Utah Jazz on their way to an easy victory. However, they ended up having to sweat it out.
Okur collected 19 points and 13 rebounds and Kirilenko added 17 points and four steals as the Jazz built a 22-point lead before holding on for a 97-89 triumph over the struggling Washington Wizards.
Utah still held a comfortable 77-59 edge with 8:35 left when the Wizards went on an 18-6 charge, cutting their deficit to six points. Four players scored four points during the burst, including Antawn Jamison, who finished with a season-high 30 points.
"They just kept pecking away at us," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "We got casual and the shots we took are the shots you don't really like. That's what happens in this league so often, you lose your focus for a second or two and the other team picks it up and gets it back."
Caron Butler capped the run with a pair of free throws at the 3:02 mark to make it 83-77.
Washington nearly made a stop on Utah's next possession, but Kirilenko worked free for a dunk with one second left on the shot clock.
"It's important to score in those types of positions," Kirilenko said. "I was trying to get open. When I got (the ball) I was trying to finish quick and get the two points."
The Wizards again shaved the deficit to six points twice, the last coming on Jamison's layup with 1:40 to go. But they were unable to come up with stops on the defensive end late en route to their fifth loss in six games.
"In the fourth quarter, we relaxed a little and Washington jumped on our backs," Kirilenko said. "They started pressuring us and we couldn't get the ball inbounds. I'm happy we finished the game out."
The Jazz (18-17) have won seven of their last eight games and pulled above .500 for the first time since November 12, when they were 4-3.
"We've been trying to get there (.500)," said Utah rookie point guard Deron Williams, who came off the bench to score 10 points, including a 3-pointer with 1:18 remaining for a 90-81 lead. "We've been battling every night to get there. We look around our league and teams are losing, it's the perfect time to make a run before the All-Star break."
Conversely, Washington guard Antonio Daniels is starting to show his frustration over the team's recent struggles.
"We're going through some things, obviously," he said. "With a young team, you go through things and you try to solve problems. Right now, we're in the process of trying to find ourselves collectively as a team. We're trying to recreate our identity, defensively."
"It's hard to say after a loss, but we made some good strides on the defensive end," Jamison added. "We had a couple of breakdowns, but as a whole you can find some positives in our play."