NBA Basketball

Jazz look to continue turnaround at Thunder

When the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz last met, the Jazz finished the night by celebrating their 4-2 NBA first-round playoff win over the Thunder.

Utah looked like a team on the rise after knocking off Oklahoma City in that series, even after falling in five games to the Rockets in the next round.

Things haven't exactly been smooth since then, though, as the Jazz started off this season with an uneven 8-11 start that could be attributed to a variety of factors -- Donovan Mitchell's injuries and struggles, inconsistent defense and Ricky Rubio's up-and-down performances at point guard among the issues.

Heading into Monday's meeting at Oklahoma City's Chesapeake Energy Arena, Utah seems to be shaking out of its early-season doldrums.

After Sunday's loss in San Antonio, the Jazz have still won four of their last six games to get close to climbing over .500 for the first time since the season's second week.

Part of Utah's turnaround has been the addition of veteran guard/forward Kyle Korver, who was acquired in a trade with Cleveland on Nov. 29.

Korver's addition has helped the Jazz play better along the perimeter on the offensive side in the five games since the trade.

"He's great -- a sharpshoot," Utah's Royce O'Neale told reporters when asked about Korver. "He spaces the floor out even more. Teams focus a lot on him coming off the screens, so somebody else is gonna be open.

"(We're also) having that confidence passing him the ball when he's open, knowing it's going in the basket. He's a great teammate. He's fitting in really well."

Oklahoma City entered last offseason with plenty of questions but answered some of them by convincing Paul George to stay and upgrading things at point guard behind Russell Westbrook.

Both moves have paid off big early in the season, with Dennis Schroder starting nine games -- eight in place of Russell Westbrook as the Thunder's star point guard dealt with two injuries early in the season.

George has emerged as an early candidate for Most Valuable Player with Oklahoma City posting the second-best record in the Western Conference so far, both co-existing well with Westbrook and playing an even bigger role when Westbrook has been out.

George is averaging 24 points and eight rebounds through 24 games, both career highs. He's also on track for career highs in assists (4.4), steals (2.2) and blocks (0.8).

"My job is to play as hard as I can, try to win as much as possible," George said. "If that makes me MVP, then so be it."

With George having a career year, the Thunder currently have the second-best record in the Western Conference behind Golden State.

Oklahoma City comes into Sunday's game having won 16 of its last 20, even with Friday's loss at Chicago. But while the Thunder are 9-3 against the Eastern Conference, they are just 7-6 against Western Conference teams.

Updated December 9, 2018

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