Thunder take three-game win streak into Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — A new big three has formed in Oklahoma City and it has turned the Thunder into an increasingly dangerous NBA team.

Oklahoma City is riding a three-game winning streak coming into Saturday’s clash with the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City. In that stretch, the Thunder are averaging 121.0 points and shooting 40 percent from 3-point range. It all reached an impressive new height in Wednesday’s 132-113 win over Sacramento.

In that game, Oklahoma City (20-10) became the first NBA team since 1995 to have one player tally at least 40 points, another player collect at least 20 rebounds, and a third player finish with a triple-double. Paul George totaled 43 points on 15-of-27 shooting. Steven Adams had a career-high 23 rebounds to go along with 20 points, and Russell Westbrook racked up 19 points, 17 assists, 11 rebounds, and six steals.

“We just stayed aggressive,” George told the team website. “We stayed within our offense. Russ did a heck of job of finding people.”

This is not a new trend for these three stars.

George and Adams are both posting career-high averages in points, rebounds, assists and steals. The defensive rating (100.1) for Adams is third best among starting NBA centers. Westbrook is averaging a triple-double for the third consecutive season, with 20.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and an NBA-best 10.4 assists per game. He also leads the league with 2.7 steals per contest.

Westbrook’s willingness to involve his teammates has really helped George and Adams have an even greater impact this season and, in turn, made the Thunder one of the top Western Conference teams.

“He’s making the game easy for guys,” Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan told the team’s website. “He’s getting guys shots. He’s incorporating everybody… If you look at what Russ is doing on defense and what he’s doing as it relates to a floor game, he’s been really making a huge impact in a lot of different areas.”

Utah seems to be turning a corner as well, albeit at a slower rate. The Jazz have claimed four straight home victories, highlighted by Wednesday night’s 108-103 victory over the Golden State Warriors. The Jazz have won two straight overall after beating Portland 120-90 on Friday night behind 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting from Ricky Rubio.

Improved defense is responsible Utah getting better at home. The Jazz (16-17) are allowing just 95.6 points per game at home in December. In those four games, opponents have shot 41.4 percent from the field and 30.3 percent from 3-point range.

Rudy Gobert has set the tone on defense. In nine December games, he is averaging 12.0 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. The key in recent home games, however, is that Utah isn’t relying on Gobert to do everything on defense. Teammates are stepping up to do their part too.

“We’ve got to defend well as a team and that allows Rudy to have more of an impact,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “If Rudy is having to clean up mistakes, he can be impactful, but it’s much more effective for us if he can make a play where we’ve done a good job as a group defensively prior to him making a play.”

This marks the second game in two weeks between Utah and Oklahoma City. The Thunder beat the Jazz 112-113 on December 10. George scored 31 points and Adams added 22 to help Oklahoma City pull away in the third quarter.