NBA

Surging Jazz look to slow Westbrook-led Thunder

SALT LAKE CITY -- If Russell Westbrook is playing angry, he's not showing his hand.

Westbrook did not claim a starting spot in the upcoming NBA All-Star game after losing a tiebreaker with James Harden and Stephen Curry in voting. The snub will likely prove temporary. Westbrook has done more than enough to bolster his All-Star credentials this season.

The Oklahoma City guard leads the NBA in scoring, averaging 30.6 points per game. He also ranks second in assists at 10.4 per game and 11th in rebounds at 10.6 per contest. Westbrook has posted 21 triple-doubles so far this season and is the first player to average a triple-double this late into a season since 1963-64.

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Still, when the Thunder travel to Salt Lake City to face Utah on Monday night, Westbrook won't be looking to any special statement over being denied a starting spot.

"I don't play for All-Star bids," Westbrook told reporters on Friday. "I play to win championships, and every night I compete at a high level, and it'll work out. I just continue doing what I'm doing and play the game the right way, and everything else will work out."

Westbrook has averaged 29.7 points, 11.1 rebounds and 9.5 assists in January. He'll likely need a little help for the Thunder regain some positive momentum against the Jazz. Oklahoma City (25-19) has lost three of four games during its current road trip and is just 2-6 away from home this month. The Thunder are allowing 111.0 points per game in those eight contests.

That's music to the ears of the Jazz players. Utah (29-16) is riding a season-best six game winning streak after taking down Indiana 109-100 on Saturday. The Jazz led the Pacers wire-to-wire behind a season-high 30 points from George Hill.

Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert both added more evidence to build their respective all-star cases.

Hayward finished with 27 points -- a career-best 16th straight game with 16 or more points. He is averaging career highs in points (22.2), rebounds (5.7) and free-throw shooting percentage (.871).

Gobert totaled 19 points and 11 rebounds for his 31st double-double of the season and his 30th consecutive game with 10 or more rebounds. He is averaging 14.1 points, 15.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in January. Gobert leads the league in blocked shots per game (2.51) and ranks second in field-goal percentage (.669) and fifth in rebounds (12.7).

As good as both players have been on offense since the start of the year, Hayward points to defense as the key reason why they -- and the Jazz as a whole -- are having so much success.

"We got a lot of weapons offensively, but we're a defensive team first," Hayward said. "That's usually how we get our wins. When we play well on that end, even if we're not making shots on the other end, we give ourselves a chance. That's kind of been who we are this season. That's got to continue to be who we are. That's what we're made of."

This is the second meeting between the two teams this season. Utah beat Oklahoma City 109-89 on Dec. 14 behind 25 points from Rodney Hood, who shot 5-of-9 from distance against the Thunder. The Jazz shot 56.5 percent from the 3-point line against Oklahoma City to earn their first wire-to-wire victory of the season.