Jazz fall to .500 with 106-94 loss to ThunderBy JEFF LATZKE, AP Sports Writer Thursday, Mar 24, 2011
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)—With the season winding down, the Oklahoma City Thunder are getting closer every day to locking up a spot in the playoffs.
The Utah Jazz are falling ever closer to missing out for the first time in five years.
The Thunder bounced back from a loss to Toronto to win for the 10th time in 12 games.
“I think that we’ve just got to continue on this path. I think we’re on a good roll right now,” Durant said. “Even though we lost against Toronto, I think we’re still feeling good.”
The Jazz played without starting point guard Devin Harris(notes) because of a strained right hamstring, and Andrei Kirilenko(notes) sat out the second half after bruising a nerve in his left knee. That proved to be too much to overcome.
Utah eliminated an early 10-point deficit and was up by one early in the third quarter, but Durant and Westbrook eventually took over.
Al Jefferson(notes) had 32 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Jazz, who fell to .500 for the first time since Nov. 6 and dropped four games behind Memphis for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 10 games left.
“We’re gonna just fight, fight until the end,” Jefferson said. “We have another game tomorrow (against New Orleans) and we’re just gonna keep fighting.”
Westbrook had a three-point play and a 3-pointer during a 17-6 run that put the Thunder ahead to stay. Nazr Mohammed’s(notes) jumper from the right side to open the fourth quarter finished the decisive run and put Oklahoma City up 80-69.
Durant added back-to-back 3-pointers in a string of eight straight Thunder points that pushed the edge to 98-80 with 5:32 to play before the Jazz cut that lead in half by rallying mostly from the foul line.
Serge Ibaka(notes) contributed 15 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks for the Thunder. He has 45 blocks in 12 games this month, coinciding with his move to power forward after Oklahoma City acquired centers Kendrick Perkins(notes) and Mohammed at the trade deadline.
Over the course of a six-game homestand—the Thunder’s longest of the season—coach Scott Brooks has said one key goal is to use the extra practice time to get the new players integrated with the playoffs approaching.
“I feel like we’re good. Of course, I know some of the small things on the offensive side. But they’ve got everything on the defensive end down,” Durant said. “It’s just a matter of knowing where they want the ball, them knowing where we want the ball and small things like that.”
Perkins was disappointed in the role he played in allowing Jefferson’s big game, but any time he can get playing with his new teammates is invaluable, even if he’s doing it with braces on each knee.
“I’m just trying to harp on doing it together. We’ve got a group of young guys, and I know they all want to do well. Everybody wants to do well,” Perkins said. “What you tend to learn from being around older guys is that when you throw all the hidden agendas out of the way, you throw all the stats out of the way and if you just go out there and play to win the game, I think everybody gets a piece of the pie at the end of the day.”
Kirilenko was the latest one added to the injury mix, suffering a bruised peroneal nerve and missing the second half. X-rays were negative. Rookie Gordon Hayward(notes) took his place with the starters after halftime.
“He is a veteran guy,” Jazz coach Ty Corbin said. “He can play a couple different positions for us, and his activity makes us better. When he isn’t on the floor, we have to go younger and we don’t have guys who can be as versatile as he is so it hurts us to come out of the lineup.”
The Jazz were as much as 14 games over .500 in mid-January at 27-13—the same record as the Thunder at that point. But since then, the franchise has seen longtime coach Jerry Sloan retire and All-Star point guard Deron Williams(notes) get traded away, with the situation only complicated by a series of injuries.
Utah is 9-23 over that span, while Oklahoma City is 18-11 and in position for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Notes: Perkins picked up a technical foul in the final minute of the first half for slapping away Millsap’s hand under the basket after the two had been battling for rebounding position on what ended up being a made jumper by Jefferson. “He plays with a lot of anger, he plays with a lot of toughness, he does not like other teams, and we like that,” Brooks said. “He shows you how he feels, and it’s not happy.” … Oklahoma City has lost back-to-back home games only once all season. … Utah, which lost its first two games of the season, improved to 3-3 with a win against the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 6 and had been above .500 since then.