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Jazz sacrifice offensive boards for solid defense

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz are off to a solid start this year with a 16-10 record heading into Friday night’s late game with Dallas and a first place standing in the Western Conference's Northwest Division. The Jazz are also among the league leaders in several categories including defensive points allowed (1st), field goal percentage (5th) and 3-point percentage (7th).

The one place they rank last in the league is of little concern to coach Quin Snyder.

Although the Jazz rank 11th in the NBA in rebounding margin at plus-1.4 per game, they rank dead last in the NBA in offensive rebounds with 8.2 per game.

It partly has to do with the fact that the Jazz have fewer offensive possessions per game, but also because of Utah’s defensive philosophy, according to coach Snyder.

“I want to offensive rebound when we have the opportunity, but we want to make sure we don’t give up easy baskets in transition,” said Snyder. “We don’t have (our point guards) going to the offensive glass. There’s occasions when guys will slash and our perimeter guys will be on the boards, but for the most part we want them back.”

Snyder would rather have his big guys hitting the glass.

“There’s a tradeoff there. Trey Lyles has been really good going to the offensive boards . . . those are big plays. We don’t want to forgo that as part of our offense, but we certainly prioritize for certain players, different ways.”

CLOSING OUT: The Jazz seem to be getting over their habit of blowing big leads in the fourth quarter.

In three straight games earlier this month against Denver, the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix, the Jazz saw double-digit leads between 15 and 22 points dwindle to almost nothing — and, in one case, a two-point deficit — before hanging on to win.

However, in their last two games against Sacramento and Oklahoma City, the Jazz led going into the fourth quarter and expanded their leads into a pair of 20-point victories, outscoring the Kings by 18 and the Thunder by eight in the final quarter.

“It’s a matter of doing it the whole game and not relaxing and having defensive lapses, stretches of the game where we’re just not concentrating,” said Gordon Hayward. “We’ve done that before this year where you’ve seen us blow 15- to 20-point leads in the fourth quarter. We have to make sure we play the whole 48 minutes.”

Added Snyder, “We have to be consistent no matter what the score is or who we’re playing and have the same mentality late in the game.”

REMEMBERING SAGER: Like everyone else in the NBA, the Jazz were saddened by the passing of longtime NBA TV sideline reporter Craig Sager.

“He was such a special person,” said Utah’s Snyder. “Everybody’s had interaction with him and everybody’s got stories on some level that are flattering to him and memorable to the person that’s had the experience. He was a great man.”

Gordon Hayward said he never had the opportunity to be interviewed by Sager but knows he was beloved by NBA players and coaches.

“He was an inspiration for the fight that he showed and the joy that he brought to the game with his flair and his suits -- he brought smiles to people’s faces.’

JAZZ NOTES: The Jazz hit the road for a pair of games Sunday at Memphis and Tuesday at Golden State before playing Toronto Friday night . . . Rudy Gobert is first in the league in field goal percentage (68.2 percent), second in blocked shots (2.77 per game) and sixth in rebounding (11.8 rpg). He’s also tied for fifth in double-doubles with 16 on the season . . . Gordon Hayward is 14th in minutes per game (35.4), 15th in scoring (22.9 ppg) and 16th in free throw percentage (87.6).