Jazz fall to .500 with 106-94 loss to Thunder

Utah Jazz forward Al Jefferson, right, drives around Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, March 23, 2011. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Utah Jazz forward Al Jefferson, right, drives around Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, March 23, 2011. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) (Sue Ogrocki - AP)
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By JEFF LATZKE
The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 23, 2011; 10:43 PM

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook scored 31 points, Kevin Durant added 29 and the Oklahoma City Thunder pulled away from the depleted Utah Jazz in the second half for a 106-94 victory Wednesday night.

The Jazz played without starting point guard Devin Harris because of a strained right hamstring, and Andrei Kirilenko sat out the second half after bruising a nerve in his left knee. That proved to be too much to overcome.

Utah eliminated an early 10-point deficit and was up by one early in the third quarter, but Durant and Westbrook eventually took over.

Al Jefferson had 32 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Jazz, who fell to .500 for the first time since Nov. 6 and dropped four games behind Memphis for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 10 games left.

Westbrook had a three-point play and a 3-pointer during a 17-6 run that put the Thunder ahead to stay. Nazr Mohammed's jumper from the right side to open the fourth quarter finished the decisive run and put Oklahoma City up 80-69.

Durant added back-to-back 3-pointers in a string of eight straight Thunder points that pushed the edge to 98-80 with 5:32 to play before the Jazz cut that lead in half by rallying mostly from the foul line.

Serge Ibaka contributed 15 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks for the Thunder. He has 45 blocks in 12 games this month.

Paul Millsap had 18 points and Earl Watson scored 10 after starting in place of Harris, who was a game-time decision after getting hurt early in Utah's loss at Memphis on Monday.

Kirilenko was the latest one added to the injury mix, suffering a bruised peroneal nerve and missing the second half. X-rays were negative.

The Jazz were as much as 14 games over .500 in mid-January at 27-13 - the same record as the Thunder at that point. But since then, the franchise has seen longtime coach Jerry Sloan retire and All-Star point guard Deron Williams get traded away, with the situation only complicated by a series of injuries.

Utah is 9-23 over that span, while Oklahoma City is 18-11 and in position for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Durant and Westbrook each scored 12 first-quarter points, and Oklahoma City used a hefty advantage at the foul line to open a 37-27 lead after James Harden's 3-pointer from the right wing early in the second quarter.

C.J. Miles hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer and a jumper as Utah scored 15 of the next 20 points to tie it at 42 when Jefferson spun past Kendrick Perkins at the left block for a basket with 3:54 to go before halftime.

Oklahoma City scored the next eight points as the Jazz went seven straight possessions without scoring, including one when they lost a fast-break opportunity because the shot clock didn't reset after a Thunder turnover.

Jefferson snapped the streak with a basket from the left wing, and Perkins was called for a technical foul for slapping away Millsap's hand under the basket. Miles hit the ensuing free throw to make it 50-45 at halftime.

The Jazz scored the first six points of the second half to take their first lead on Millsap's basket inside, and they were up 54-53 after Millsap's two-handed dunk with 7:59 left in the third quarter. That would be the last lead for Utah.

Notes: The Thunder, who lost to Toronto on Sunday night, have lost back-to-back home games only once all season. ... Utah, which lost its first two games of the season, improved to 3-3 with a win against the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 6 and had been above .500 since then.


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© 2011 The Associated Press

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