Hawks vs. Jazz: Utah Must Improve Defense to Avoid Dropping 3 Straight

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Hawks vs. Jazz: Utah Must Improve Defense to Avoid Dropping 3 Straight
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Al Jefferson and the Jazz must improve their defense to beat Josh Smith and the Hawks tonight

Tonight's game against the Atlanta Hawks will prove if the Utah Jazz have fixed the problems that has plagued them during their two game skid.

Over their past two games the Jazz have allowed the Clippers and Celtics to average 108.5 points per game, coming up short in both contests. Granted, the Celtics game went into overtime, but the Celtics were able to shoot 47 percent from the field and 37 percent from three point range.

The Jazz have been average all year on defense, allowing 99 points per game, something they must improve if they want to stay on course to make the playoffs.  Advanced metrics, too, are unkind to the Jazz as they have them ninth worst in the league by allowing opponents to score 104.5 points per 100 possessions.

Utah should be able to get back on track against the Hawks tonight, as Atlanta is one of the slower paced teams in the league. The match-ups inside will be ones to watch, with Josh Smith going up against Paul Millsap and Al Horford on Al Jefferson.

Millsap, though, is a game-time decision for the game tonight. If he is unable to go it is a significant blow to Utah's chances, but not necessarily the end. Derrick Favors has played well when given minutes this season, part of the reason the Jazz were so willing to discuss trades for Jefferson and Millsap before the trade deadline.

Whichever one is in there for the Jazz tonight must rebound well. The Hawks are ranked 26th in rebounding on the year, something the Jazz must take advantage of with their front line.

Another key for Utah will be the play of whoever their point guard may be. Since Mo Williams' injury, Utah has used a revolving door at point guard. None of the players have been able to stick, for various reasons, but their point guard by committee will be crucial if they want to slow down Jeff Teague.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Despite coming off the bench, Gordon Hayward has been one of Utah's most important players

Teague is having one of the more underrated seasons in the NBA this year. He has an ability to get into the lane that many other point guards do not posses, putting his big men and shooters in positions to succeed. He is averaging a career high 7.2 assists, leading the Hawks to a 32-23 record. The Jazz will have to slow down Teague if they want to stop the Hawks tonight.

A matchup to also watch will be Gordon Hayward on Kyle Korver. Korver's his ability to shoot the three ball is something the Jazz must limit. Hayward is not known for his defensive ability, but he does have some length that could bother Korver. Hayward has been coming off the bench behind Marvin Williams for much of the year, but has improved his play of late and is the more talented option of the two.

Utah still has a very good chance of making the playoffs, as they are three and a half games clear of the ninth place Lakers. Their defense though, is the one area that could contribute to a late season collapse.

The Jazz have home games against the Hawks and Bobcats before heading out on the road next week. Starting Monday they play five out of six away from home, where they've only gone 10-19. Utah must play better defense beginning tonight against Atlanta if they want to avoid sitting at home come playoff time.

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