The Oklahoma City Thunder have a big fan -- Jerry Sloan -- and that's one reason why the Jazz won't take them lightly when the two teams meet Friday night in Oklahoma City.
"They have a very, very fine young team," said Sloan, Utah's veteran coach. "It's just [a matter of] learning how to play with each other and taking advantage of the skills they have."
Oklahoma City is 19-49 and has been doomed to the lottery since, oh, Thanksgiving. But the Thunder already own a 114-93 win over the Jazz this season and have won six of their past 10 games.
Among the victims: Philadelphia, Dallas and San Antonio.
"I like their team a lot," Sloan said. "For a young team, they've really come a long way in a short period of time."
In the last two years, Oklahoma City has turned three top-five draft picks into Kevin Durant , Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook . With more experience, all three players look like potential All-Stars.
By comparison, the Jazz have had one top-12 draft pick since 1983. They selected Deron Williams with the third pick in the 2005 draft.
Besides drafting Durant, Green and Westbrook, Oklahoma City made a couple of beneficial moves during the season.
On Dec. 20, the Thunder signed free agent Nenad Krstic , the former New Jersey Net who has given them a Memo Okur -type center. He averages 9.9 points and 5.8 rebounds.
"When they picked up Krstic," Sloan said, "I think he gave them a lot of help. ... He can step out on the floor and shoot the ball and open things up for other people -- so they can do some stuff to show their athletic ability."
On Feb. 19, Oklahoma City acquired guard Thabo Sefolosha and cash from Chicago for the least favorable of the Thunder's three first-round picks in the 2009 draft.
In his first 10 games with Oklahoma City, including nine starts, Sefolosha averaged 11.5 points and 6.4 rebounds.
They'll take it
The Jazz come off an uninspired 103-88 win over injury-depleted Washington.
Although it snapped a three-game losing streak, the victory didn't do much for Utah's swagger.
"It was a bad game," said Williams. "We didn't play well as a team -- kind of sloppy. But a win is a win. Sometimes you need those games."
The Jazz have shot over 50 percent just once in the last nine games. Andrei Kirilenko is only 15-for-38 from the floor in his last five.