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Posted Feb 4 2007 2:50PM
The Utah Jazz know they are a better team with All-Star forward Carlos Boozer in the lineup. They also know they can win without him.
The Jazz try to make it three straight wins against some of the league's top teams on Monday when they host the Chicago Bulls.
Losing Boozer to a fractured left fibula figured to slow down the Jazz (31-17), who have a comfortable lead atop the Northwest Division.
Although it suffered a one-point loss to New Jersey on Jan. 29 in its first game without Boozer, its leading scorer and rebounder, Utah has rebounded with impressive wins over San Antonio and Pacific Division-leading Phoenix.
Mehmet Okur scored 19 of his 29 points in the second half, including a decisive 19-footer with 5.1 seconds remaining, to lift the Jazz to a 108-105 road victory Saturday over the Suns.
Deron Williams added 28 points and 10 assists for Utah, which has handed Phoenix three of its 10 losses this season.
"We can't play their game," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "We can't get in a running game with them. But if we execute we feel we can get decent shots. We have to be in a half-court game and I think we did a pretty decent job trying to stay in it."
It was another victory against an elite team for the Jazz, who are 6-2 against Phoenix, San Antonio and Dallas.
"This was huge, because they're such a good team," Okur said. "I think we like the challenge, you know?"
The Jazz, however, are just 11-7 against teams from the East, although they won at Chicago 95-85 on Jan. 20.
Okur has been outstanding in the three games Boozer has missed, averaging 26.0 points on 49.1 percent shooting (28-of-57) from the field and 11.3 rebounds. He recorded his third straight double-double and 15th this season Saturday.
Playing without Boozer, who is not expected back for at least two weeks, is not a new experience for the Jazz since injuries limited him to 33 games in 2005-06 and to 45 last season.
"We miss Boozer for sure," Utah's Matt Harpring said. "It was kind of bad that we played without Boozer (through his injuries the last two seasons), but we kind of know how to play without him. We went back to old ways, Andrei (Kirilenko) and I, trying to help out under the basket, pick up the slack."
This will be the fourth stop on a seven-game road trip for the Bulls (28-20), who are 2-1 on the trek and have won five of six overall.
Ben Gordon scored 15 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter as Chicago held on for an 88-86 victory Saturday over Portland.
Kirk Hinrich had 17 points, six rebounds and five assists, and Luol Deng had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulls, who won despite not making a field goal over the final 6:21.
"It was a crazy game from start to finish," Gordon said. "We had just 12 points in the first quarter but our defense was solid. We did a really good job defending in the entire first half. Then in the third, they threw the first punch and I thought we did a good job of not panicking."
Chicago will also be without a key contributor Monday, as starting forward Andres Nocioni was taken out of the lineup because of a foot injury. Nocioni has an inflamed arch in his right foot and underwent an MRI to determine if the injury is a tear, the team announced on its Web site.
He's averaging 15.0 points and 6.0 rebounds a game.
Although they are 8-14 on the road, the Bulls have been much better there of late. They have won seven of 13 away from the United Center since losing eight straight on the road in November.
Chicago has dropped eight of its last 10 visits to Utah.
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