(AP) — It took a while, but the Miami Heat have finally regained the defensive form that helped them win the NBA championship last season.
They’ll try to hold an opponent under 100 points for the seventh straight game and win their fourth in a row Saturday when they host the inconsistent Utah Jazz.
Miami (17-6) limited Dallas to 38.5 percent shooting – including 3 of 22 from beyond the arc – on Thursday in a 110-95 road win.
After allowing 100.6 points over their first 17 games, the Heat have given up just 89.7 in the past six. Miami has limited opponents to 39.8 percent from the floor in its three-game winning streak.
All those misses have led to transition scoring opportunities for the Heat, who rank fourth in the NBA with 18.9 points per game off turnovers this month. They were just 16th in the league (16.8) in November.
“We know each other,” LeBron James said. “We can close our eyes and (know) where we’re going to be offensively and defensively.”
Miami, 12-2 at home, looks to continue the effort against a Utah team that has struggled to score in dropping three of its last four contests.
The Jazz (14-13) shot 37.2 percent from the field – including 2 of 15 from 3-point range – on Wednesday in a 104-84 loss at Indiana.
Derrick Favors was one bright spot with 16 points and nine rebounds, scoring in double figures for the third time in four games.
Al Jefferson, however, matched a season low with four points on 1 of 8 shooting. The team’s scoring leader (16.8 per game) may be able to bounce back Saturday since he’s averaged 22.5 points in his last two games against Miami.
The Jazz averaged 109.0 points in winning four of six to open December, but they’ve scored just 86.5 points per game in their last four while falling to 5-11 on the road.
“We just need to get back to work and work on things in practice,” guard Gordon Hayward said.
James doesn’t need to work on too much. He’s scored at least 20 points in all 23 games, the longest streak to start an NBA season since Karl Malone’s 24 in a row opening the 1989-90 season.
“I’m just very comfortable and confident in my ability,” he said. “I put a lot of work into my game. It’s always good when you put in the work and implement that into a game situation.”
While the Heat have lost two of three against the Jazz since James arrived in Miami, he’s averaged 34.0 points on 28 of 44 (63.8 percent) shooting in the last two meetings.
Dwyane Wade, who added 19 points against the Mavericks, has burned Utah for 32.7 points per game in his last three in the series.
Miami has eclipsed 100 points in 10 of 12 games, shooting 50.0 percent from the floor during that stretch.
Utah snapped an eight game losing streak at Miami in its last visit when it pulled out a 116-114 overtime win behind Paul Millsap’s career-high 46 points in 2010.
The Jazz have won three of four in the series, winning 99-98 at Utah in the only meeting last season, overcoming a combined 66 from James and Wade.
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