By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
The Utah Jazz have lost nine straight games inside Chesapeake Energy Arena and they are 0-3 overall against the Thunder this season but don’t let those facts confuse you this Jazz team is good and getting better.
With an 89-87 win last night in Houston the Jazz have won six of their last seven games and have now moved past the Rockets into eighth place in the Western Conference which would put them in the playoffs.
"It feels good to know we're still in it," Jazz forward Derrick Favors said after the game. "But we're not in there yet so we've got to continue to work hard, play hard and keep winning games."
Holding Houston to just 87 points is no small feat but defense is what has turned things around for the Jazz. They were good on that end of the floor in the second half of last season and they’ve been good and even great at times this season.
Utah is allowing opponents to score just 96.4 points a game (2nd fewest behind the Spurs). The problem for the Jazz this season is the same as last, their offense doesn’t generate much. While the Jazz scoring defense is second best in the NBA their scoring offense is second worst, averaging just 97.7 points.
Part of that lack of scoring is by design. The Jazz actually don’t have a terrible shooting percentage (44.8, 20th) but they like to play a slow deliberate style especially against teams that like to run.
The Thunder, who seldom have any trouble scoring points, are trending up too. After stumbling to a 4-8 record coming out of the All-Star break, OKC has won five in a row thanks mostly to a couple of streaks by superstar players and an offense that’s averaged 119 points on 51 percent shooting.
Kevin Durant has scored at least 20 points in 56 straight games tying his career-long streak and joining Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan as the only players to string together multiple streaks of 20-plus points in at least 50 straight games.
Interestingly KD’s streak began against the Jazz when he scored 27 points at Utah in his first game back from a strained hamstring on November 23rd. He hasn’t scored fewer than 21 points against Utah in six straight games and is averaging 31.7 over that stretch. KD has failed to score at least 20 points against Utah in games played in OKC just once.
Russell Westbrook is working on a streak of three straight triple-doubles and six in his last nine games. That’s the most in one month since Jordan registered seven in April, 1989. His 15 triple-doubles so far this season is just two behind Magic Johnson for the most in a season since the NBA-ABA merger three decades ago.
"That's just a blessing," Westbrook said. "Especially getting mentioned with those guys. Those guys are Hall of Famers. My job is try to help us win games and try to win a championship."
The more triple-doubles Westbrook records it would seem the better off the Thunder are. OKC is 15-0 this season when Russ has a triple-D and 30-4 throughout his career.
So with all the streaks on the line and Utah’s great defense going up against the Thunder’s great offense it should make for another fun game at The Peake.
- The Thunder continue to be second in the NBA in scoring, averaging 110.2 points a game. They’re third in overall shooting (47.6 percent), first in rebounding (48.5) and third in blocks (6.10).
Backup center Enes Kanter leads the NBA in rebounds coming off the bench (7.8 per game).
Before winning six of their last seven, the Jazz had lost seven of eight.
The Jazz haven’t won in Oklahoma City since Halloween Night of 2010 when they beat the Thunder 120-99.
Utah is playing on the second night of a back-to-back, in those situations the Jazz are 10-6
Tipoff is set for 7:10 tonight and you can see the game on Fox Sports Oklahoma. You can follow me on Twitter @RandyRenner for live updates from the arena beginning when players hit the floor for early warmups at about 4 o’clock.