Injuries and road struggles have highlighted an inconsistent season for the Utah Jazz. Based on the way he’s been playing lately, Mehmet Okur could be capable of helping the club overcome both obstacles.
After his career-best scoring performance led the Jazz to a perfect homestand, Okur looks to help them snap a four-game road skid as they meet the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.
Utah (23-15) started the season without star point guard Deron Williams, who missed 13 games with an ankle injury. Williams is rounding into form, but he’s played only two games with All-Star power forward Carlos Boozer, who’s missed the last 26 contests with quadriceps and knee injuries.
While Utah’s two leading scorers from last season have been unreliable, Okur is averaging a career-high 18.1 points after scoring 14.5 per game in 2007-08. He had a career-best 43 points and went 13-for-19 from the field in a 120-113 home win over Indiana on Monday night.
Okur is averaging 24.2 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 62.3 percent from the field in six games since a three-game absence due to back spasms, and the Jazz are 5-1 in that stretch.
“We’re trying to find (Okur) because when the guy’s going on a streak like that, you should use him as much as possible,” Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko said. “He’s a good player. I can see what he can do, and it’s not surprising. He can make almost every shot.”
Monday’s victory capped a 4-0 homestand for Utah, which improved to 16-4 at EnergySolutions Arena. The Jazz, however, are 7-11 on the road, where they’ve dropped four straight.
That’s a skid Okur hopes to help snap in the opener of a three-game trip Wednesday, when the Jazz try to get a fifth straight win for the first time since their 5-0 start.
“We just wanted to keep our streak going,” Okur said after Monday’s game. “… We’re going to go out there with a lot of confidence and try to win all three games on the road and come back.”
The Jazz would appear to have a good shot at starting the trip with a victory over the Thunder (6-33), who have the NBA’s worst record. But Oklahoma City has been more competitive lately, winning three of its last seven and losing three games in that stretch by a combined eight points.
Kevin Durant had 26 points and nine rebounds as the Thunder forced overtime before falling to New Jersey 103-99 on Monday night.
“It was a good effort on the road,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We had a chance to win with a half-second left. We’ll take that. The effort was good. We still have to do a better job of taking care of our mistakes.”
Encouraged by their recent ability to stay close, the young Thunder think it’s only a matter of time before they start winning more games.
“We’re putting ourselves in every game,” said rookie point guard Russell Westbrook, who had 19 points Monday. “We’re just one step away, one shot away from winning the game. If we just keep doing that, we’ll be all right.”
The Thunder outscored the Jazz 68-46 in the second half of the teams’ first meeting Nov. 7, but it wasn’t enough to overcome their 29-point halftime deficit in a 104-97 loss - their fifth straight against Utah. Durant led Oklahoma City with 24 points in that game, while Okur chipped in 16 for Utah.