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Thunder give Jazz a playoff preview

The SportsXchange

SALT LAKE CITY -- Tuesday night's result certainly didn't discourage the Utah Jazz from wanting to make the playoffs.

But Oklahoma City offered a glimpse of a rough first round if the Jazz eke past the Lakers to squeeze into the Western Conference's final berth and the Thunder leapfrog the Spurs for the top spot.

Russell Westbrook scored 25 points and made a big steal and dunk in the final 20 seconds as Oklahoma City beat Utah 90-80 in a defensive slugfest at EnergySolutions Arena.

Kevin Durant added 21 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, and Serge Ibaka totaled 16 points and eight boards in the Thunder's third consecutive road win.

"We had great intensity. We came out with the mindset of getting stops every time down the court, and we did," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "We did a great job."

Mo Williams had 19 points and six assists, Gordon Hayward scored 17 points and Al Jefferson contributed 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Jazz.

Utah, battling the Lakers for the West's final playoff berth, fell to 41-38 after winning seven of its previous eight.

But it was made clear again that the Jazz aren't close to being able to compete at the same level as the West's upper echelon. Utah, which has a 29-11 home record, was decimated defensively by the Thunder six days after being routed on its court by Denver 113-96.

"Tough loss. This is a tough loss tonight," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We were disappointed on our home floor. But we lost to a good team."

Westbrook made several big plays down the stretch to clinch the Thunder's win. The All-Star point guard's 3-pointer with 4:30 remaining gave OKC an 82-70 lead.

Williams started a Jazz charge with a 3-pointer and Utah pulled within four points on a Paul Millsap dunk with 23.4 seconds remaining.

Durant then hit two free throws before Westbrook made the play of the night by picking off Millsap's ensuing inbound pass to Williams after a timeout.

Westbrook cruised to a two-handed dunk with 16.3 seconds remaining and capped his night with two free throws with 7.6 seconds to go.

Westbrook said it's not that important for the Thunder to overtake the idle Spurs (57-20) atop the West.

"The important thing for us is to be playing the right way," Westbrook said. "As long as we continue to play the right way, especially in a hostile environment, it is great."

The victory avenged the Thunder's loss in Utah on Feb. 12 (109-94) and got them back on the winning track after Sunday's 125-120 home loss to New York.

The Jazz led early on a Hayward 3-pointer, putting them up 4-2.

But it was a rough go for Utah after that.

The Jazz only shot 39.2 percent from the field overall and only scored more than 19 points in a quarter during the third (26). They trailed by as many as 14 points and didn't make a legitimate push until the final three minutes when it was too late.

Utah committed 17 turnovers, with Durant and Westbrook each getting three steals.

"It's always tough when you get a loss, but we played well enough to win tonight," Jefferson said. "I think we still fought to the end against a great team, but now we have three games left, so we'll go take care of business."

Kevin Martin, Westbrook and Durant each hit buckets at various points in the fourth quarter to squelch potential Jazz runs.

Both Ibaka and Derrick Favors finished with five blocked shots.

The Jazz didn't get their usual bench boost.

Favors scored eight points and had eight rebounds and a handful of swats. But because of health issues, Utah was missing several key reserves. DeMarre Carroll was the only other Utah backup to score, and he had three points on 1-of-6 shooting from the field.

Oklahoma City had its struggles offensively as well, shooting just 39.5 percent from the field. But the Thunder hit 17 of 18 free throws and 9 of 21 from 3-point range.

NOTES: The Jazz will be without backup center Enes Kanter for as long as they keep playing this season (and postseason). The 20-year-old will have surgery on his dislocated left shoulder today in Chicago. "Frankly, this is good news, guys," Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said. "The probability, as given to us, that something would happen to the shoulder is no greater than a shoulder that's never been injured before." The Jazz are not giving a timetable on Kanter's return. ... Utah was also missing regular reserves Alec Burks (sprained left ankle) and Marvin Williams (stomach flu) for this one. Williams was going to try to play but was sent home before tipoff. ... Thunder guard Derek Fisher was booed every time he touched the ball. Some Jazz fans are still bitter that he was released from his contract by the Jazz in 2007 and rejoined his former team, the Lakers. Fisher told Jazz management he wanted to move to a city that had medical professionals better suited to take care of his then 10-month-old daughter, who had retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer.
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