Thunder 119, Jazz 111

With starters Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko out with

injuries, the Utah Jazz have lost back-to-back games for the first

time in more than two months.

That small stumble provided a window just big enough for the

red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder to be nipping at their heels to take

away home-court advantage in the playoffs.

Kevin Durant scored 35 points, Russell Westbrook added 30 points

and 11 assists, and the Thunder closed within a half-game of the

fourth-place Jazz in the Western Conference standings with a

119-111 victory Sunday night.

The Thunder shot a season-best 60 percent and never trailed on

their way to a sixth straight home win and their 17th win in their

last 20 games overall.

“The goal is for us to finish the season strong and to try to

continue to compete, and go from there,” Westbrook said.

Oklahoma City, which finished 23-59 last season, ensured that it

will finish no worse than .500 and pulled even with Utah in the

loss column with 24 apiece. The Thunder have won all three meetings

between the teams this season and would hold a tiebreaker if they

end up with the same record at the end of the season.

“That’s very important, especially moving on with the season,”

Westbrook said. “I think if we continue to keep playing and keep

playing the way we are, we’re going to keep moving up.”

Wesley Matthews hit six 3-pointers and scored a career-high 29

points for the Jazz, who hadn’t lost consecutive games since a

three-game skid that ended Jan. 4. Deron Williams had 27 points and

14 assists, and Carlos Boozer had 18 points and 11 rebounds for

Utah.

Those were the only three players left from Utah’s starting

five, as Okur sat out with a strained back after playing a

season-high 41 minutes two nights earlier in a loss at Milwaukee.

Kirilenko was unable to return from a calf strain suffered in that

game, and the Jazz were also without reserve Ronnie Price

(wrist).

“I thought we fought. We did a good job of trying to step up

with the guys we’re missing, but we’re missing a lot,” Boozer

said. “Not to make any excuses. They came out and kicked our butt

and shot 60 percent, let us shoot a little less than that and

that’s the game.”

Oklahoma City, which led by 10 at halftime, made its first 12

shots of the third quarter but wasn’t able to pull away much in the

process. When Westbrook completed the perfect stretch by following

Boozer’s flubbed dunk with a driving layup, it only put the Thunder

up 86-73.

The Jazz rallied back to get within 94-88 on Williams’

three-point play with 8:22 remaining, but the Thunder answered with

a 9-2 spurt to put the game out of reach. Boozer was called for a

technical foul – his second straight game with one late in the

fourth quarter – after missing a layup in the stretch.

Jeff Green followed with a right-handed jam that he turned into

a three-point play, and Durant added a 3-pointer to make it 109-95

with 3:44 to play. The Thunder were 10 for 10 at the foul line

after that to seal the game.

“We just couldn’t get stops,” Williams said. “We couldn’t

stop them. … They just made all the plays down the stretch and we

didn’t.”

Green finished with 14 points, while Nenad Krstic and Thabo

Sefolosha scored 13 apiece for the Thunder. Oklahoma City is 16-0

when shooting at least 50 percent from the field and improved to

5-4 when an opponent makes at least half its shots.

“When guys make shots and we get stops, that gives us a lot of

momentum and that gives us kind of like some more energy,” Durant

said. “Guys were coming out there and when they got the

opportunity to get the ball, they were making shots.

“We were putting each other in good positions to score, and

when you do that, that’s what equals out to good shots.”

Matthews hit his first five 3-pointers before missing with 2:14

left and the Jazz down 109-100. He finished 6 for 7.

Paul Millsap, who started in place of Okur, scored 13 points.

The Jazz had won 23 of 28 before the back-to-back losses when

injuries became a factor.

“There’s nothing you can do about it, though,” Boozer said.

“It happens at this point in the season. We’re all banged up a

little bit, some guys a little banged up more than others.”

NOTES: Jazz coach Jerry Sloan was whistled for a technical foul

with 1:41 left in the first half after Durant drew a foul for the

second time in the game by whirling through the arms of a Utah

defender and then flailing toward the basket without the ball. It’s

a patented move for Durant, who leads the NBA with 572 free throws

made this season. … Utah signed swingman Othyus Jeffers to a

second 10-day contract. … The Thunder ended up making 14 of their

17 shots (82 percent) in the third quarter.