SALT LAKE CITY — Enes Kanter had been in a major slump his last three games, shooting a combined 3 of 13 for seven points.
The big man was a difference-maker Wednesday night in Utah’s 100-86 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
The second-year Jazz player from Turkey started 6 for 6 from the field, including 5 of 5 with five rebounds, a block and an assist in the second quarter as Utah took control after trailing by 12 points in the first.
“He hit the sophomore wall, as I call it, but he bounced back,” Jazz starting center Al Jefferson said of Kanter’s recent struggles. “I just told him to start relaxing and just let the game come to him. That’s what he did.
“Everybody knows he’s mad talented. Everyone knows what he can do. 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.”
Paul Millsap and Jefferson each scored 19 points while Kanter had 17 and a career-high five blocks in 17 minutes for the Jazz, who improved to 28-22.
Utah’s big men had a huge game, with Derrick Favors adding nine points and 11 rebounds. Kanter set the tone late in the first quarter as Milwaukee forward John Henson tried to drive the lane.
Henson looked as if he had run into a brick wall, with Kanter forcing a jump ball.
“He was playing smart and playing big inside,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “I thought he made some great passes, too.”
It was a stark contrast to Saturday night in Portland, where Kanter laid a goose egg, shooting 0 of 7 for zero points.
“Every time I have had a game like up in Portland, I am just sitting down and just talking to Big Al and my coaches,” Kanter said. “That’s helped me. I’m just young. I just go out there and fight. That’s what I try to do.”
Jefferson, who could see the 20-year-old Kanter eventually taking his job — arguably one reason Big Al is the constant source of trade rumors — is there to support his protégé.
“Every time I have a bad game and I’ve struggled, he sits down with me and talks to me,” Kanter said of Jefferson. “(He says), ‘You’ll get through this. Just keep your head up.’”
Utah dominated inside as the Bucks were without the NBA’s leading shot blocker, Larry Sanders, because of a back injury sustained Tuesday night in Denver. The Jazz held a 31-10 advantage on second-chance points and a 56-36 edge on points in the paint.
“They did a good job of eating glass,” Bucks forward-center Drew Gooden said. “That was the difference in the game.”
Jefferson and Favors led Utah with 11 rebounds apiece, and the Jazz had a 50-37 advantage on the boards.
Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova led Milwaukee with 17 points apiece.
Samuel Dalembert, coming off a career night in which he scored 35 points in a loss at Denver, was held to 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting. He finished with 11 rebounds and four blocks.
“When Sam is out there, we have a little more beef,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “We are a thin team, that is our makeup. . And when we go up against the teams that have big, physical front lines, it’s a problem for us. . Sometimes it’s the sheer size that’s thrown up against us. It wears you down a little bit and it was evident tonight.”
The Bucks pulled to 90-81 on Dalembert’s free throws with 3:24 left, but he was called for goaltending on the next Jazz possession.
Utah was never threatened after that.
Milwaukee shot 35.4 percent (29 of 82) and just 6 of 19 from 3-point range. Mike Dunleavy had a particularly tough night, going 3 of 13 for 10 points.
“I couldn’t put the ball in the basket,” Dunleavy said.
He refused to use injuries as an excuse, noting that Utah is without starting point guard Mo Williams, backup Earl Watson and third-leading scorer Gordon Hayward.
“You have to deal with that during the course of the season,” Dunleavy said. “It’s no excuse. We had a lot of good looks that didn’t go down and maybe took the wind out of our sails.”
Utah led by 15 after three quarters as Milwaukee shot just 26.3 percent in the third. The Jazz kept the pressure on with Marvin Williams hitting a 3-pointer and DeMarre Carroll (11 points) scoring on a fast-break layup after Favors stuffed Dunleavy at the other end.
Early on, the Bucks looked as though they might be able to break through in Salt Lake City after losing 10 straight, their last win coming in October 2001.
They led by 12 in the first quarter, with Ilyasova having the hot hand early.
Kanter then took over in the second.
His three-point play gave Utah a 37-33 lead with 6:30 remaining in the half. Five of his six first-half field goals came after he grabbed an offensive rebound or loose ball and went up strong.
In 9 minutes in the first half, Kanter led all scorers with 13 points. He also had seven rebounds, two blocks and an assist as Utah led by as many as 12 in the second, 49-37.
“He is really embracing who he is and on this team the guys are really understanding who he is,” Corbin said.
NOTES: Hall of Fame power forward Karl Malone reiterated during a radio show that he would like to help coach the Jazz players. Asked if that could happen, Corbin said, “Who knows?” but noted that he likes his current staff. ... Hayward (sprained right shoulder) missed his sixth straight game but has been taking shots during practice. ... Bucks F Marquis Daniels got the start over Luc Mbah a Moute, who did not dress because of a sore right knee. ... Dunleavy converted a four-point play with 11:10 left in the second after being fouled on a 3-pointer.