Westbrook, Thunder look to halt Jazz 6-game winning streak
OKLAHOMA CITY — Most teams struggle in the second night of a back-to-back.
The Utah Jazz are thriving.
The Jazz are 4-1 in the second game of back-to-backs, including 1-1 on the road, entering a Tuesday game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Utah comes in having won six consecutive games, including a 116-69 home win over the Washington Wizards on Monday.
Much of that winning streak has come without starters Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood available.
Gobert returned from a bone bruise in his right knee that kept him out for 11 games, playing 21 minutes against the Wizards and producing four points and 10 rebounds.
Hood sat out a fourth consecutive game Monday due to a sore left ankle.
With Hood sidelined, guard Alec Burks has scored 20 or more points in three consecutive games for just the second time in his seven-year career.
“I think he’s just being efficient,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “His finishing is really, really good right now. He’s had stretches where he’s shot the ball well, but the biggest thing really when you watch him defend, there’s just the real pride that’s he’s got right now on the defensive end. When he’s focused on that, he’s a natural offensive player.”
The Jazz (13-11) had 29 assists against the Wizards. Over the past six games, they are averaging 28.3 assists.
“We have an unselfish team,” Snyder said. “Sometimes being unselfish isn’t enough to be good, but it’s a foundation.”
The game starts a Utah stretch in which seven of its next eight games are on the road. That run finishes with another game in Oklahoma City on Dec. 20.
While the Jazz are riding high, the Thunder are just trying to get their heads above water.
Oklahoma City has won two consecutive games to get to 10-12, though its most recent win was a 90-87 nail-biter against a San Antonio Spurs team that had multiple key players sitting out entirely and a few more who sat for the whole second half.
In that game, though, Thunder coach Billy Donovan was pleased with his team’s ball movement, even if the shots that movement created didn’t fall for the most part.
Much of that improvement can be attributed to Carmelo Anthony, who was the focal point of the Knicks’ offense for the six-plus seasons prior to his offseason trade to Oklahoma City. He also was the offensive leader for seven-plus years with the Denver Nuggets prior to his time in New York.
However, Anthony has taken a lesser scoring role, taking a combined 17 shots over the past two games while upping his passing numbers. Anthony is averaging 41.3 passes per game on the season, but he averaged 46 over the past two contests.
Anthony has averaged 16 shots per game this season.
“At this point, we’re in the process of still trying to figure it out, still trying to see how we want to play,” Anthony said. “As we’re still trying different things out there, for me personally, it’s about doing something different, seeing where the team really needs me on a night-to-night basis and just be willing to sacrifice.
“Not every night do I have to score 20 or 30 points. I’m good with that. It’s a good feeling as long as we’re winning.”
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