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Sloan knows 76ers’ defense will be tough

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PHILADELPHIA — Against Washington, a team that's lost five of six after falling to the Jazz on Monday night, Utah faced a defense that was paper thin.

Tonight in Philadelphia, against an opponent that lost a New Year's Eve thriller with the Jazz, coach Jerry Sloan's club should expect the book to be thrown at them.

How it reacts, Sloan suggests, will go a long way toward helping to determine which team 18-17 Utah really is — the one that has won seven of its last eight, or the one that was struggling at five games under .500 before its recent run of success.

"When (opposing) teams are tougher, they do certain things," Sloan said. "They take us out of one thing, so what else do we have? We have to be intelligent enough to know what to do to take Step B. When we get Step A, a lot of times we're OK. When we go to Step B, we stumble around — and when we're really pushed down the line, we have a problem."

The Jazz, in other words, have their offensive act most together when the defenses they're facing are cursory at best.

Try to throw them off their game, though, and there is no telling how Utah might react.

"That," Sloan said, "is part of the growth process of our team."

HOT HAND: Forward Matt Harpring had the hot hand early in the fourth quarter of the Jazz's 97-89 win at Washington, a happenstance Sloan saw as game-altering after the Wizards cut Utah's 22-point advantage from late in the third quarter to six a couple of times later in the fourth.

"They made a run at us," Sloan said, "and then we had about four or five possessions where Matt had three or four good looks at it."

The reason he did, Harpring suggested, is simple.

"I got some plays run for me," he said. "You know, good passing and good execution — I knocked down shots."

Harpring, who finished with 12 points, played 31 minutes off the bench.

That's about the most he's allowed as his surgically repaired right knee continues to heal, though the Jazz captain now has medical clearance — he did not earlier in the season — to play both games of back-to-back sets.

TAKING NOTICE: Players and teams throughout the NBA are well aware of the Jazz's recent run of success, but perhaps nothing Utah has done lately has been more noticeable than beating Detroit last Saturday night — the Jazz's second win in as many games against the 26-5 and league-leading Pistons this season.

"Utah has just been playing well of late — the last six or seven games," Washington's Antawn Jamison said. "We all saw what they did against Detroit, so we knew this was a totally different team than the team that started playing the first month of the season."

TRADE TALK: For whatever it's worth, New York Post NBA columnist Peter Vecsey noted Monday that the Jazz and Cleveland Cavaliers "are making unknown pitches" for Denver guard Earl Watson, long a subject of trade speculation this season.

New York, Seattle and Memphis also are known to have made offers and/or shown interest.

The Jazz did pursue Watson when he was a free agent this past summer, though it's believed Utah has some degree of concern over the length of his five-year, $29 million contract that reportedly pays $5 million this season.

NBA teams have until Feb. 23 to make trades this season.

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com