SALT LAKE CITY — No offense to 29 other teams, but Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson believes the cream of the NBA crop will be at EnergySolutions Arena tonight.
He wasn't even talking about his own team.
Jefferson and the Jazz have huge respect for Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and the rest of the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder, who'll be here for a late 8:30 p.m. MT showdown.
"I think they are the best team in the NBA," Jefferson said. "The good thing about that team, everybody know their role ... and everybody click together."
From the aforementioned prolific scorers to bigs Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison.
"They're going to be hard to beat," Jefferson added.
The Thunder come into this having lost a tight game in Sacramento late Friday, but they still have a best-in-the-West 20-6 record. Utah has dropped two straight and four of five while falling to 13-11.
"If we look at them as if they're going to be tired, we're making a mistake. This is a great ballclub," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said at shootaround. "They're young guys. They're going to be upset about losing a game on the road to Sacramento, and they're going to look forward to trying to make up."
The Thunder are the third-highest scoring team in the NBA with a 101.2 points-per-game average. Knowing that, Corbin said it's imperative that his team plays stellar defense.
Westbrook can attack and shoot from outside. Durant is dangerous everywhere this side of halfcourt.
Corbin said they're "one of the most powerful" duos in the NBA, and they're surrounded by capable scorers and rebounders as well.
"We have to make sure we control those two guys in the open court, control them when they're playing the pick-and-roll," Corbin said. "The weakside guys have got to be ready to rotate and not let them get free looks."
This is an important game for Utah, considering it has a back-to-back-to-back set in Memphis, New Orleans and Oklahoma City starting Sunday night.
The Jazz haven't beaten the Thunder since Halloween 2010. OKC won the final three games last season, including two in Utah by an average of 11 points, after dropping that first one, 120-99.
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