SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -Twenty games into the season, the Utah Jazz are on pace for a 60-win season.
Even coach Jerry Sloan admitted he was surprised it has come together so well after opening with back-to-back lopsided losses.
``We could have exploded early in the season,' Sloan said Wednesday night after his team improved to 15-5 with a 110-88 victory over the Indiana Pacers. ``Guys could have gone south. But they stayed together.'
The 22-point win showed just far they have come.
Deron Williams is still the leader, with game highs in points (24) and assists (16). But in 34 minutes he didn't commit a single turnover.
``For someone who handles the ball as much as he does ... not turning the ball over is pretty cool,' said backcourt mate Raja Bell.
Williams also is shooting 62 percent over the last five games.
Rebounding, which last week seemed to be a negative, has now become a strength for the Jazz.
Utah held a 46-32 advantage on the boards against Indiana, with a 19-7 advantage in offensive boards. In the first quarter they had a 14-3 advantage en route to a 35-17 lead.
After falling behind so many times this season, the Jazz avoided the wasted energy of a comeback. Utah led by as many as 19 points in the first quarter after shooting 61.5 percent
``It's really nice because we can do it,' Bell said of starting fast. ``We just reaffirmed for ourselves we can play well (early) in the ballgame. We don't want to keep digging holes like we've been digging.'
Try the outside shooting of Al Jefferson, who was acquired in an offseason trade to replace Carlos Boozer. Jefferson came up big when the Pacers had cut Utah's lead to four points in the third quarter.
He scored six straight points and eight of the next 12 as Utah bumped its lead back to 10.
``I always had a jumper,' said Jefferson, who finished 8 of 17 for 17 points, with 10 rebounds. ``I just never had to use it. I was always greedy. I like that paint. In this offense, you got to be able to hit that jumper.'
The Jazz also showed balance, with the starters all scoring in double figures by the end of the third quarter and C.J. Miles adding 13 off the bench. Andrei Kirilenko had 18 points and seven rebounds for Utah, while Paul Millsap had a double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Bell added 10 points.
``The Jazz are right in the hunt in the West and we're trying to get a playoff spot,' Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said. ``There's a world of difference between their franchise and ours right now.'
The Jazz also forced 18 turnovers against the Pacers, who were led by Darren Collison with 16 points.
``The second half we got stops and turned the game into one we can control, and hustle plays you can always control,' said Bell, who had a key steal and three-point play in the third quarter that stopped any momentum the Pacers had.
After the 0-2 start, the Jazz have now won 15 of 18 and seven straight.
But with a game Friday night against Dirk Nowitzki and Dallas, which also has won seven straight, no one is proclaiming Utah a finished product.
``We played a nice 20 games,' Bell said. ``Especially after the first two, I don't think many people gave us credit or would have given us credit to do this. But we really turned it around and started to understand what we can do to win games and how we have to pay to win.'
It helps that the Jazz have just started a six-game homestand.
``We have to pocket these,' Kirilenko said.
But he knows saying it isn't doing it.
``It's ups and downs in the NBA,' Kirilenko said. ``You remember in preseason we won eight in row, then the beginning of the season we went down, then the road trip we went up then, home games we've been sloppy. Now we're up again. I hope we can stay up a little bit more.'
Notes: The Jazz observed a moment of silence before Wednesday's game in memory of Utah Jazz executive Greg Miller's mother-in-law, who was found stabbed to death Tuesday afternoon at the South Salt Lake book shop she owned. A photo of Sherry Black, 64, was shown on the giant screen at Energy Solutions Arena while public address Dan Roberts asked fans to remember the families after the ``senseless act of violence.'... The Jazz are 8-0 against the Eastern Conference. ... Williams had a double-double for the first time in the first half this season. ... The Jazz had a season-high 19 offensive rebounds.
The Associated Press News Service
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