Jazz-Thunder Preview

As good as they’ve been this season, the Oklahoma City Thunder

are freshly removed from a humbling reminder of some improvements

they can still make.

They’ll try to get back on track Wednesday night when they host

a Utah Jazz team locked in a tight battle for a playoff spot.

The Thunder own the third-best record in the NBA at 47-17, but

they’re chasing San Antonio for home-court advantage in the Western

Conference. A 105-93 loss to the Spurs on Monday put another game

between the two in the standings, but coach Scott Brooks will try

to use it as a teaching tool for his club.

“Normally teams don’t push us out so we can’t run our offense,”

Brooks said after the Thunder had 17 turnovers and 16 assists.

“They did a good job of being physical with us. We’re usually in

attack mode and we’re able to get better catches and better

execution. That’s something we can get better from.”

Kevin Durant scored 26 points and Russell Westbrook had 25, but

only one other Oklahoma City player scored in double figures and

the team’s bench managed 15 points – well below its average of 29.4

that ranks toward the bottom of the league.

The Thunder may have an easier time at the offensive end against

the Jazz, who are allowing opponents to shoot 45.6 percent from the

floor and are one of the worst in terms of interior defense,

surrendering 43.3 points in the paint per game.

Utah (33-31) has lost seven of nine but beat Detroit 103-90 at

home Monday to remain tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the

eighth spot in the West.

The Jazz have struggled badly away from home, losing eight of

nine to give them a 10-23 road mark. They might have a better

chance to earn a win outside of Utah if Mo Williams continues his

return to form.

Williams, who missed 32 games with a thumb injury, scored 20

against the Pistons after totaling 18 points in his first three

games back.

“I don’t know how long it will be before I get fully back,” he

said. “But this is a good game for me confidence-wise. You miss a

lot of games like that and you want to get your confidence back.

You want to be able to be aggressive but you don’t want to be

aggressive and hurt the team.”

Though Williams is healthy, Utah may again be without power

forward Paul Millsap, who was sidelined Monday with a bruised right

quad and patella. Derrick Favors was unimpressive starting in his

absence with six points, but reserve Enes Kanter could help fill

the void given his strong play of late if Millsap can’t go.

Kanter had 14 points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes Monday and

is averaging 15.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 68.3 percent shooting –

all well above his season marks – in his last six games.

These teams have split two meetings this season with each

winning at home. Durant scored 58 points and shot 19 of 29 in those