MINNEAPOLIS — The Utah Jazz defense is getting stingier as the season progresses.
Defensive-minded coach Tom Thibodeau is pleading for his Minnesota Timberwolves to do the same.
Utah travels to Minnesota on Monday off one of the most impressive defensive performances of the season in a 95-68 home win against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday, a matchup of two stiff defensive teams.
"We try to approach every game like that defensively," said forward Gordon Hayward, who had 24 points. "We haven’t been as successful as we were tonight. We knew it was going to be tough to score against them. We were able to get stops, so we did want to make sure they weren’t locking in and going against half-court defense all the time. They’re pretty good when they get to set up like that."
The Timberwolves haven’t figured out the defensive end in their first season with Thibodeau as coach.
The young talent is averaging 103.1 points and produces highlight moments offensively. But Thibodeau was brought aboard to develop the team’s highly-touted core and get them to play soundly on the defensive end.
Minnesota is giving up 103.5 points, good for 15th in the league. The Timberwolves held Phoenix to 85 points in a 98-85 win on Friday, but they lost 115-102 at Golden State on Saturday and lost four of their past five games.
"I don’t get excited about stuff like that," Thibodeau told the Minneapolis Star Tribune when asked about a big dunk by guard Zach LaVine against Phoenix. "I get excited about stuff that wins, so I liked our defense. That’s the important thing. I hope we can get to the point where we’re talking about the things that go into winning and get away from the sideshows."
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Utah’s style isn’t one to lead to many highlight-reel plays. However, the Jazz own the league’s top defense, giving up just 92.8 points, a year after finishing second in the category. Utah opponents are shooting a league-low 42.3 percent from the field this year.
In winning their second-straight game, the Jazz held Atlanta to 31.3 percent shooting. Utah outrebound the Hawks 55-40, blocked nine shots, had nine steals and forced 14 turnovers.
The Jazz (9-8) held eight opponents to fewer than 90 points this season, with the 68 allowed to Atlanta the lowest of the season.
"We want to be a really good defensive team," Utah coach Quin Snyder said. "We knew we were playing against the best defensive team in the league. We were focused on being disciplined and that was the main thing."
The Jazz lost four games in a row before their two-game win streak. Opponents scored 100 or more points in three of those games. Another common theme was the absence of point guard George Hill.
Hill missed eight games with a thumb injury but played in the past two contests. Hill scored 23 points against Atlanta.
Point guard is a rotation or sorts for Minnesota, recently. Starter Ricky Rubio is still trying to find his form after missing five games with an injury. Rookie Kris Dunn has been the backup, but Tyus Jones sparked the team in a fourth-quarter comeback against Phoenix. He also played the entire fourth quarter against Golden State.
"We’re looking for a spark," Thibodeau said. "I thought Ricky gave us a good start and I thought Kris was solid."