(AP) — The Chicago Bulls’ six-game road trip hasn’t gone as well as they’d hoped, and ending it on a positive note won’t come easy against a Utah Jazz team playing extremely well at home.
Utah seeks an 11th victory in its last 12 tries at EnergySolutions Arena while trying to send Chicago to a season worst-tying third straight defeat Friday night.
The Jazz (28-22) haven’t played very well on the road, but a home-heavy stretch has helped them get back into the Western Conference playoff picture with the All-Star break approaching.
They improved to 19-5 at home with Wednesday’s 100-86 win over Milwaukee, earning their ninth victory in their last 12 games as only one of their defeats has come at home in that stretch.
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap scored 19 points apiece for Utah, which has held opponents to 40.6 percent shooting over its last four games.
“We’re in a good little zone right now,” Jefferson said. “We’ve just got to keep it up. We’ve got four more games left (before the All-Star break).”
Jefferson, averaging 22.5 points and 11.3 rebounds in his last eight games versus the Bulls, also lauded the effort of second-year center Enes Kanter, who scored 17 points off the bench after totaling nine in his last four games.
“Everybody knows he’s mad talented. Everyone knows what he can do,” Jefferson said. “Sometimes your body just (doesn’t) want to agree with your mind. Sometimes you’ve just got to fight through it and I think he did that.”
Coach Tyrone Corbin has been impressed recently with Alec Burks, who is seeing increased minutes off the bench at point guard with Mo Williams (thumb) and Earl Watson (leg) out with injuries.
Burks is a natural shooting guard, though Corbin said he’s improving at the other guard spot.
“He’s been huge,” Corbin said. “If he hasn’t been doing what he’s been doing, we’d be in a bind right now. He’s doing a tremendous job for us. It’s a lot of pressure because we want to get up the floor quickly.”
Millsap scored 26 points in a 111-97 loss March 10 in the most recent meeting with Chicago, which fell to 2-3 on its trip after being routed 128-96 by Denver on Thursday.
The Bulls (29-20) allowed the Nuggets to shoot 58.1 percent – the best an opponent has shot against them this season – and gave up their most points since a 132-108 loss to Utah on March 9, 2010.
“Until we change (our defense), the results aren’t going to be good,” Thibodeau said. “We’re not containing the ball, not challenging shots. That makes it very difficult to win.”
Joakim Noah scored only two points in his first game back after missing the last three due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot, and Chicago shot only 41.8 percent.
Carlos Boozer, who reportedly has been mentioned in trade discussions for Toronto forward Andrea Bargnani, scored 18 points.
Boozer scored a game-high 27 points in the Bulls’ home win last March, and had 14 in February 2011 in his return to Salt Lake City after signing with Chicago in the summer of 2010.
The Bulls have won six of the last eight meetings with the Jazz, including two of the last three in Utah.
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