Thunder-Jazz Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated April 08, 2013
The Oklahoma City Thunder are trying to close the gap in the race for the top seed in the Western Conference. There's much more at stake for the Utah Jazz. The Jazz look to continue their surge and build on their slim lead for the West's final playoff spot Tuesday night when they face the Thunder in what could be a first-round playoff preview. Oklahoma City (56-21) leads the Northwest Division by three games over Denver with five games left in the regular season, so - barring a collapse - the Thunder should emerge with a third straight division title. They're probably much more concerned with entering the playoffs with home-court advantage as the West's top seed, and they trail San Antonio by one game in that race after falling 125-120 to New York on Sunday. "We're good. We've got five more games to go," said forward Kevin Durant, who had 27 points and seven assists. "What's the need to panic for? We're good." The Jazz (41-37) aren't nearly that comfortable. With four contests left, Utah leads the Los Angeles Lakers by one-half game in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot. Despite the Lakers having a game in hand, the Jazz hold the tiebreaker by winning the season series. "Four games left. We've got to have them," center Al Jefferson said. The Jazz have gained the advantage in the playoff chase by winning seven of eight while averaging 103.9 points and shooting 50.3 percent from the floor - 40.5 from 3-point range. That's a dramatic improvement after enduring a 3-12 stretch that included shooting 43.7 percent - 34.7 from beyond the arc. Utah's recent surge continued with Sunday's 97-90 win at Golden State, spoiling the Warriors' chances of clinching a playoff berth. "I can't say enough about this group of guys," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "This was all about them and them wanting it, and the way they came out. Although we made some mistakes in the game, everybody laid everything they had in them out there on the floor." Mo Williams connected on 11 of 19 from the floor to finish with 25 points after totaling 12 on 5-of-20 shooting over the previous two games. The guard has reached 20 points in six of the past 18 games, averaging 12.4 over that stretch after missing 32 with a sprained right thumb. Williams was held to five points in a 110-87 loss at Oklahoma City on March 13. He sat out the most recent home meeting Feb. 12, when Jefferson scored 23 in a 109-94 victory. Oklahoma City has won seven of the past nine games with the Jazz despite Durant averaging 23.6 points. He had 33 points at Salt Lake City in February and may have some motivation for a similar performance since he's locked in a tight race for the NBA scoring title with the Knicks' Carmelo Anthony. Durant is averaging 28.35 points while Anthony is at 28.44. Russell Westbrook is averaging 27.8 points, 9.5 boards and 8.5 assists over the past four contests. He fell just shy of his second triple-double of that stretch Sunday, getting 37 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.
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