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
“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