Jazz-Thunder Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated November 29, 2012
Led by the NBA's highest-scoring duo, the Oklahoma City Thunder look just fine despite trading the reigning Sixth Man of the Year. They'll try for their seventh win in eight games Friday night as they host the Utah Jazz, who look to continue their improvement on the road. The Thunder (12-4) cruised to their third straight victory Wednesday, defeating former teammate James Harden and Houston 120-98. Harden was held to 17 points on 3-of-16 shooting while Kevin Durant scored a season-high 37 points for the second time in three games. Kevin Martin, who came over from the Rockets in the Harden trade, also scored 17. "We've moved on past it, man," Durant said. "We're happy to see (Harden), glad he's doing well out there in Houston but we wanted this win bad. "For all those days in practice where him, Daequan (Cook) and Eric Maynor beat the first group, I wanted this win real bad." Durant's 26.6 points per game and Westbrook's 20.7 make them the league's highest-scoring teammates again, but Westbrook's other numbers may be more significant. The point guard is averaging a career-high 8.6 assists - a jump of more than three from last season - with a career-low 3.1 turnovers. He tallied nine assists against Houston, his 11th game this season with eight or more. Westbrook reached that total in 12 of his 66 games in 2011-12. "He's just slowing down and taking his time," Durant told the team's official website. "As you start to grow in this league, the game starts to slow down for you a little bit, you start to see things earlier than you would in your first or second year. "He's sacrificing shots for himself to mix it around for the whole team. That's what great point guards do and he's having a hell of a season." Westbrook's increased playmaking is a big reason Oklahoma City's 22.9 assists per game rank near the top of the NBA, compared to last season's league-worst rate of 18.5. "I think passing the ball is something we can really point to that has been good for us and we need to keep building on that," big man Nick Collison said. They'll look to do that against a Utah team that has won five of six, including two of its last three road games after starting 1-6 as the visitor. Gordon Hayward sparked the Jazz (9-7) late in Wednesday's 96-84 win at New Orleans. The Hornets started the fourth quarter with a 13-4 run to trim Utah's lead to seven, but Hayward scored 13 of his 15 points after that to preserve the victory. He had totaled 12 points on 2-of-16 shooting over his previous two games. "It just kind of came to me," said Hayward, who is averaging a career-best 13.3 points. "I was able to step up and knock some big shots down. I haven't hit those in the past three games so it's good for me to finally knock down some shots." Hayward missed six shots and did not score in the Jazz's lone visit to Oklahoma City last season, a 111-85 loss Feb. 14. Utah won 97-90 at home March 20 to snap a five-game skid in the series. The Jazz are expecting Mo Williams to return Friday after missing three straight games with a right foot injury. Marvin Williams, though, is doubtful after he suffered a concussion in the third quarter in New Orleans when he fell to the court. "I heard it from all the way down on the bench," Hayward said. "It looked pretty painful."
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