Game Day: Utah Jazz vs Oklahoma City Thunder (3/20/12)
By Noey Kupchan
Posted Mar 19, 2012 6:33PM
The Utah Jazz have picked up the pace over the last few weeks to climb above .500 for the first time in over a month.
Keeping things going, however, could prove difficult with the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder coming to town.
Seeking a fourth straight victory and sixth in a row at home, the Jazz try to avoid a three-game season sweep and a sixth consecutive loss to the Thunder on Tuesday night.
Utah sat three games under .500 following a 5-13 stretch Jan. 25-Feb. 28, but has since gone 8-4 to pull within one-half game of Houston for the final playoff spot in the West.
One night after defeating Golden State 99-92 in overtime for their fifth consecutive home win, the Jazz (23-22) picked up their third consecutive victory Sunday, 103-99 over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Six players scored in double figures for Utah, which forced a season-high 24 turnovers and held the Lakers to 2-of-13 shooting from 3-point range.
"It's big for our team, big in our development and big in our growth," said Paul Millsap, who had 24 points, nine rebounds, five assists and five steals. "We just continue to push forward. I'm so proud of our young guys. They stepped up big for us. They came into a hostile environment and showed what we were capable of doing."
With leading scorer and rebounder Al Jefferson away from the team to attend his grandmother's funeral over the weekend, Derrick Favors averaged 17.5 points and 13.5 boards while starting each of the last two games at center. Enes Kanter, selected No. 3 overall in June's draft, had a season-high 17 points Sunday.
"That's who we are," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "Right from the beginning of the year, we knew we had to play our young guys to get them some experience on the floor, to develop them with our veteran group of guys."
Averaging 19.0 points and 9.4 rebounds, Jefferson is expected to return versus a Thunder team that's given the Jazz fits of late. Oklahoma City (34-11) has taken eight of 10 in the series, including five straight by an average of 15.0 points.
The Thunder have shot a combined 51.0 percent from the field in winning 101-87 at Utah on Feb. 10 and 111-85 at home four days later.
Oklahoma City, though, is enduring its worst stretch of the season by going 5-4 over its past nine games. The Thunder avoided dropping two in a row for the second time in 2011-12 with Sunday's 111-95 home win over Portland.
Russell Westbrook scored 28 points while Kevin Durant added 26 for the Thunder, who outscored the Trail Blazers 31-15 in the first quarter and never looked back.
"We did a good job getting that good start," Westbrook, averaging 27.5 points during his last four visits to Utah, told the NBA's official website. "I liked our pace, we did a good job pushing the ball. We just have to stay focused."
Oklahoma City shot a season-best 61.1 percent (11 of 18) from beyond the arc, improving to 12-0 when shooting at least 41.0 percent from long distance.
"I think passing (was key)," forward Nick Collison told the team's official website. "It starts with execution, if we can get an advantage, they have to help and that's when you can kick to open shooters."
Utah has outscored opponents by an average of 10.0 points and outrebounded them by 15.2 per game during its home winning streak. The Jazz haven't won six straight on their own court since a 10-game run Feb. 24-April 6, 2010.
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