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Boozer leads Jazz to Northwest Division title

Mar 29, 2007 - 5:39 AM SALT LAKE CITY (Ticker) Carlos Boozer's prolific performances have the Utah Jazz celebrating.

Boozer had 25 points and 11 rebounds and Mehmet Okur added 23 and 12 as the Jazz clinched the Northwest Division title with a 108-102 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Deron Williams collected 22 points and 14 assists for Utah, which won its sixth straight home game en route to its first division title since the 1999-00 season when it was in the Midwest Division. The Jazz (47-24) clinched with their win and Denver's (35-35) loss to Seattle on Wednesday.

"Being able to win the division is kind of a special thing," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "Sometimes you take it for granted, but to me, it's quite an accomplishment. Hopefully, we don't stop there."

On Monday, Boozer netted a career-high 41 points in Utah's 103-97 win over Washington. The All-Star forward continued his dominant play two nights later, shooting 11-of-21 from the field.

An oft-injured forward, Boozer has proved to be one of the best forwards in the NBA when healthy. For the second straight game, he showed his impressive strength around the rim, highlighted by an emphatic dunk over 7-0 superstar Kevin Garnett in the second quarter.

Boozer's injury problems over the last two seasons have been one of the primary reasons the Jazz have not been able to squeeze into the playoffs since the 2002-03 campaign.

Last year, he played in just 33 games as Utah just missed the postseason, finishing dead even at 41-41. But after racing to a 12-1 start in November, the team has had a return to the playoffs on its mind.

"Finally everybody's healthy this year, we've got new players, we got to know each other and our chemistry's great," Okur said. "I think we earned it and showed that."

Prior to the three-year absence from the playoffs, the Jazz had been a mainstay in the postseason, qualifying in 20 consecutive seasons, dating back to 1983-84. But the Karl Malone-John Stockton nucleus - now immortalized in bronze outside EnergySolutions Arena - has been replaced by Boozer, Williams, Okur and Andrei Kirilenko.

"It's one step in many steps we want to take this year," Boozer said. "We're definitely proud of ourselves. It's the first time this group has done it - first time this organization has in a few years, so we're excited about that. But we've got bigger fish to fry."

Okur and Williams combined to shoot 11-of-23 from the floor, including 3-of-6 from the arc, for the Jazz, who shot 51 percent (38-of-75) from the field.

The Timberwolves held a four-point advantage entering the third quarter, but the Jazz took control with a 10-2 surge at the beginning of the fourth on their way to another 100-point effort, their 47th of the season.

"We had our chances; we kind of let it slip away tonight, Minnesota guard Ricky Davis said. "This is a very good team, so you can't slack off at all."

Garnett had 25 points and eight rebounds for the Timberwolves (30-41), who dropped to four games behind the Los Angeles Clippers in the race for the final playoff spot in the West.

"If we can't get it together, you can't be surprised at how close we are," Davis said. "Until you can get it together, it's just going to be hoping and wishing."

Utah currently holds a 1 1/2-game lead over Houston (46-26) and is four games behind San Antonio (51-20) for the No. 3 seed. The Jazz get shots at both teams this weekend, playing their two former division foes on the road this weekend.

"These are definitely two crucial games," Williams said. "I don't know how many years it has been since this team has won in San Antonio, but I know it's been a while. Houston, we definitely need to get that one for playoff reasons."

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