SALT LAKE CITY — The roller coaster continued for the Utah Jazz. One minute they’re in, the next they’re out.
But even after Tuesday’s 90-80 loss to Oklahoma City, players weren’t about to concede the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference to the Los Angeles Lakers.
“We still got a chance,” point guard Mo Williams said. “I’m not sitting here saying it’s over. We got three games left. We’ve got to go get them.”
Utah (41-38) entered with a half-game lead and the tiebreaker over the Lakers, but is now in ninth again with the loss to the Thunder and the Lakers’ win over New Orleans.
The Thunder, meanwhile, continued their push to claim the top overall seed in the Western Conference, with Russell Westbrook scoring 25 points and Kevin Durant adding 21 to fuel Tuesday’s victory.
At 57-21, Oklahoma City has as many wins as the San Antonio Spurs (57-20).
Going into Salt Lake City, the Thunder insisted they were more concerned with bouncing back from a tough home loss Sunday to the New York Knicks.
“That is one of the strengths of our team; we always seem to figure out a way to get better after a loss,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
He credited Westbrook with setting the tone.
“He doesn’t get enough credit for his aggressive play,” Brooks said. “He helps us win games, a lot of games and the way he plays, he attacks, he puts so much pressure on the defence, he opens up shots for Thabo (Sefolosha), opens up shots for Serge (Ibaka), and KD did a great job of spreading out his game tonight. He could have easily taken more shots tonight if he wanted to, but he was making the right plays.”
Durant added 12 rebounds, nine assists, three steals and a block for the Thunder.
Al Jefferson’s three-point play pulled Utah within 84-78 with 55 seconds left and Paul Millsap’s dunk made it a four-point game, but Durant hit two free throws and Westbrook stole the inbound pass to seal it for the Thunder.
Ibaka helped Oklahoma City build a big lead with 10 points, four rebounds and three blocks in the third quarter. In four games this season he had 20 blocks against the Jazz.
“The stats say we are the second-best defensive team in the league and I believe we are,” Brooks said. “We lock in on that end of the floor but you have to be able to score also. We always have this little thing that we talk about: Let our defence score points for us, and it did tonight.”
Williams finished with 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting Tuesday to lead the Jazz, who had won two straight and seven of eight but were done in by poor shooting and sloppy play. Utah committed 17 turnovers and made just 31 of 79 shots (39.2 per cent), including 7 of 25 from 3-point range.
“They’re a unique team,” Jazz guard Randy Foye said. “They’re really long 1 to 5. Sometimes there are passes you can slip in there against other teams. Not against them. Give them credit.”
The Thunder weren’t much better with 11 turnovers and 39.5 per cent shooting, but they made 9 of 21 from 3-point range, including 4 of 8 by Sefolosha.
Oklahoma City led by as many as 14 after Sefolosha hit a 3-pointer with 8:42 left in the third.
The Jazz fought back behind Derrick Favours. He blocked Kendrick Perkins’ shot at the rim then converted a three-point play at the other end to get the Jazz within 60-53.
Each time Oklahoma City had an answer.
“We could never get over the hump,” Foye said.
Westbrook’s 3-pointer bumped the Thunder lead back to 10 points, 65-55.
The Thunder led 26-19 after one as Utah shot just 38.1 per cent and committed six turnovers. Westbrook had an eight-point quarter, including a nasty dunk where he blew by Williams and left Jefferson watching helplessly.
The Jazz climbed within 26-24 in the second quarter on a 3-pointer by DeMarre Carroll and Millsap’s fast-break layup.
Utah’s second unit, led by 6-10 Favours, stepped up the intensity in the second quarter. Favours and Hasheem Thabeet bumped back and forth and Favours had three blocks in 13 minutes, including one on Durant with 4:54 left in the second quarter.
Durant was undeterred. He came right back with a 3-pointer for a 39-28 Thunder lead — Oklahoma City’s largest in the first half.
Brooks was asked about a statistic indicating it’s been nine years since a player has won a title the same year as logging 3,000 minutes. Durant has now played 3,018 minutes, including 37 Tuesday.
“He’s going to play and he’s going to play a lot of minutes,” Brooks said. “It hasn’t affected us one bit. Obviously when you’re 24 and have the energy he has, and the ability to play at the level he has, minutes is really not a factor. We’ve never gone into a playoff series and said, ‘Man he’s tired. He’s beat up. We’re not going to be able to get anything out of him.”‘
NOTES: Jazz C Enes Kanter will have surgery to repair damage in his dislocated left shoulder Wednesday and miss the rest of the season. GM Dennis Lindsey said the decision was made for Kanter’s long-term health as it will decrease odds of the shoulder dislocating again. … Utah was without F Marvin Williams (stomach virus) and G Alec Burks (sprained ankle). … Sefolosha’s fourth 3-pointer of the night was his 100th on the season. … The Thunder shot just 38.1 per cent in the first half and led 45-35 as the Jazz made 14 of 40 (35 per cent) and just 4 of 15 from 3-point range while committing 10 turnovers. … Favours finished with five blocks. The Thunder are averaging a league-best point differential of 9.2 a game –the sixth-highest differential since 1980.