Back home after a three-game road trip, the Utah Jazz ought to feel at least a little bit of comfort on Monday, even though they’re hosting the defending NBA champs.
“It’s just a game we have to win,” center Al Jefferson said. “It’s the defending champs so you’ve got to come ready to play. But it’s most definitely a game that we just focus on winning.”
The Heat (24-11) bring the Eastern Conference’s best record into EnergySolutions Arena, but they’re just 8-8 on the road this season. Tonight’s game will be the fourth in a challenging six-game road trip.
Miami lost the first two games but bounced back with a big win over Sacramento on Saturday.
“We’re trying to get better,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re trying to build a better road toughness and resolve. We’re only .500 on the road, at home we’ve been much, much better.”
The Jazz (20-19) are coming off a hard-fought road win against Detroit. They finished their recent road trip 2-1, beating Charlotte and Detroit but losing a heartbreaker in Atlanta, where they blew a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter.
“It should have been 3-0 on that road trip, that game in Atlanta still bothers me a lot,” Jefferson said. “We finished 2-1. We come back home for a good little home stand now but we’ve got a tough one tonight to start it off.”
After play almost every other day for the first two months of the season, the Jazz now get a bit of a break. Counting tonight’s game, they’re home for the six of the next seven. Better still, they play only three games over the next 10 days, all of them at ESA.
“It’ll be a great victory for us if we can get this win,” Jazzman Paul Millsap said. “Who knows what a win like this can do for us?”
Jefferson is the Jazz’s leading scorer, averaging 17.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. LeBron James lead the Heat with 25.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.9 assists per contest.
“One thing about (the Jazz) they’re going to play hard and they’re going to play together each and every night,” James said. “We have to be ready for them.”
This will be the second meeting of the season between the Jazz and Heat, who won the first game in Miami on Dec. 22.
James scored 30 points and added nine rebounds and seven assists in the 105-89 victory.
Marvin Williams, who will return to the court after sitting out the last three games with tendinitis in his left knee, led the Jazz with 16 points.
“(The Heat) have such great 1-on-1 players with (Dwyane) Wade, LeBron and (Chris) Bosh ” Williams said. “The rest of the team are pretty much 3-point shooters, they are really spread the floor. They make it very difficult to match up so it’s going to take a total team effort on the defensive end.”