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Boozer, Okur power Jazz to sixth straight win

Mar 11, 2007 - 7:28 AM SALT LAKE CITY (Ticker) In a battle of two of the game's premier point guards, it was forwards Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur who led the way for the Utah Jazz.

Okur scored 29 points, including five 3-pointers, and Boozer added 20 and 13 rebounds as the Jazz posted their sixth straight win, a 96-86 victory over the New Orleans Hornets.

Winners of 14 out of their last 16 games, the Jazz moved 13 games ahead of Denver for first place in the Northwest Division and have cemented themselves in the fourth spot in the Western Conference standings.

"We're just playing good basketball right now. We're competing. We're not getting out to the bad starts that we used to get out to," Jazz guard Deron Williams said. "And we're finishing games, finishing teams off."

Two of the best point guards in the NBA, Utah's Williams and the Hornets' Chris Paul were drafted with the third and fourth picks, respectively, in the 2005 draft. Both have been stellar floor generals, but on Saturday they took a back seat to a pair of Jazz big men.

"(Boozer) does his thing on the block, I do my thing on the perimeter," Okur said. "Obviously, they do a great job creating open shots for us. They try to put the ball in our hands."

Okur shot the ball well from the perimeter, shooting 9-of-15 from the field, including 5-of-7 from the arc. Boozer was the perfect interior complement, nailing 10-of-20 shots, mostly on strong post-ups and tough follow shots.

"It's a good mix because teams have mismatch problems," Boozer said. "Usually, they put smaller guys on (Okur) and he takes them outside; they put bigger guys on me so I try to get around them with my quickness. It's worked pretty good."

The 6-11 Okur also was the star when the teams met on Sunday in New Orleans, scoring 28 points in Utah's 108-94 victory. Boozer, on the other hand, overcame a slow first half to play a major role in the Jazz's third-quarter comeback.

Utah went into halftime with a two-point deficit but scored the first nine points of the third quarter and, thanks to eight points and six boards from Boozer, built a double-digit lead.

"We're clicking right now. We don't get rattled anymore. We're more poised now. We always know we have a chance to come back and win the game," Boozer said. "I think in the second half, we turned it up another notch and got a little bit of a cushion."

The Jazz, one of the top rebounding squads in the NBA, were unusually tentative in the first half, particularly on the glass. The Hornets outrebounded the Jazz, 19-14, over the first 24 minutes and shot nearly 50 percent from the floor.

"I was a little disappointed the way we started off the ballgame, knowing that they played a game (Friday)," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "Our intensity on the defensive end was not there. They kicked our behinds pretty good in the first half."

But the Jazz took control with a flurry of points to open the third period and a 15-5 run later in the quarter. Williams, who shot just 3-of-13 from the field, dished out four assists during the run to help push his team's lead to 11.

"We tried to make an effort to get inside, and pound it inside," Williams said. "We knew we had an advantage in there, especially when Linton Johnson was in there guarding either (Okur) or Boozer."

Jannero Pargo scored 15 points and David West added 13 and 10 rebounds for the Hornets, who shot 44 percent (36-of-81) to absorb their fifth straight loss. They now are two games behind the Los Angeles Clippers in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

"You've got to play four quarters. That's the bottom line," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "You can't relax at any time in this league or against any team."

Williams and Paul are second and fourth in the NBA in assists, respectively. Both registered double-doubles on Saturday. Williams had 10 points and 13 assists, while Paul added 12 and 11.

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