With starters Mehmet Okur (strained back) and Andrei Kirilenko (calf) out with injuries, the Utah Jazz lost back-to-back games for the first time in more than two months.
That small stumble provided a window just big enough for the red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder to be nipping at their heels to take away home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Kevin Durant scored 35 points, Russell Westbrook added 30 points and 11 assists, and the Thunder closed to a half-game behind the fourth-place Jazz in the Western Conference standings with a 119-111 victory in Oklahoma City on Sunday.
The Thunder (41-24) shot a season-best 60 percent and never trailed on its way to a sixth consecutive home win and the team’s 17th win in the past 20 games overall.
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“The goal is for us to finish the season strong and to try to continue to compete, and go from there,” Westbrook said.
Oklahoma City, which finished 23-59 last season, ensured that it will finish no worse than .500 and pulled even with Utah (42-24) in the loss column with 24 apiece. Oklahoma City has won all three meetings between the teams this season and would hold a tiebreaker if they end up with the same record at the end of the season.
“That’s very important, especially moving on with the season,” Westbrook said. “I think if we continue to keep playing and keep playing the way we are, we’re going to keep moving up.”
Wesley Matthews hit six 3-pointers and scored a career-high 29 points for the Jazz, which hadn’t lost consecutive games since a three-game skid that ended Jan. 4. Deron Williams had 27 points and 14 assists, and Carlos Boozer had 18 points and 11 rebounds for Utah.
Boston’s Glen Davis denied he intentionally tried to hurt Cleveland’s Shaquille O’Neal in a game earlier this season, calling the accusations “crazy.” O’Neal is expected to miss the rest of the regular season after tearing a ligament in his thumb when Davis blocked his shot Feb. 25. … Jermaine O’Neal was ejected from Miami’s game against Philadelphia after grabbing Samuel Dalembert’s face. … Heat forward Michael Beasley sat out his second consecutive game because of a bruised left thigh. … Orlando small forward Matt Barnes missed the game against Charlotte because of a sprained left big toe. … Pacers point guard T.J. Ford is expected to miss seven to 10 days with a sore left groin. … Steve Nash had 13 points and 12 assists in his 1,000th NBA game as Phoenix beat New Orleans, 120-106.