Jazz (10-11, 5-6 road) vs. Thunder (15-8, 10-3 home)
TV: FS Oklahoma
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 6:00 PM CST
Offensive Rating: Thunder – 110.2 (2nd), Jazz – 105.5 (10th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 103.1 (12th), Jazz – 103.7 (13th)
It’s a funny thing about perspective. A week ago, the Oklahoma City were coming off two road losses and facing a Kings team that, let’s face it, is a traveling band of dysfunction. In the two losses, the Thunder found ways to keep the game close, but made critical mistakes in each to lose the game at the end. The Kings game was supposed to be a respite. It was supposed to be the game where the Thunder fix their flaws and come out with an easy victory.
Because, you know, that’s what good teams do at home after two road losses against an inferior opponent. Instead, through turnovers and horrible, the Thunder found a way to let a 12 points lead in the beginning of the 4th quarter turn into a 7 point deficit with 3 minutes left. The Thunder were listless and their superstars were playing like the Monstars had visited OKC that evening. But like the Thunder do (and like the Kings do in negative ways), they rallied back and ended up winning the game by 3, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook making the necessary plays to win the game. It was a frustrating game to say the least.
Fast forward to a week later, and the Thunder are now riding a 3 game win streak heading into their last game against the Jazz in Utah. The Thunder lead for most of the game by double digits, but never really pull away. With 8 minutes left, the Thunder found themselves up by 12. Seven minutes later the score was tied. Sound familiar? If so, then you should know who made the plays down the stretch to preserve a Thunder victory. Kevin Durant scored 7 points in the final minute to help maintain a Thunder victory.
Here’s the thing, though. Because we were on such a roll, this past game felt like one of those games where you go, “That’s what great teams do. They win close games on the road against inferior teams.” But other than the locations of the game, it was a basic mirror image to the Kings game from a week ago. The only difference was where the Thunder stood leading up to each of those games. One week they are struggling. The next they are on a roll. It’s all about perspective.
This is the third meeting of the season between the Thunder and Jazz. The Thunder have won both meetings this year, with both games coming on the road. The Thunder won the first game easily, 111-89, putting together one of their best performances of the season up to that point. In the second meeting, the Thunder struggled to close the Jazz out, but made enough plays at the end to come out with a 94-90.The Opponent
The Jazz come into this game with a 10-11 record, having lost 4 of their last 6 games. The Jazz are a team that are at the end of their rebuild and are expecting results. Their play in the second half of last season set up the expectations for a possible playoff run this season. Things got off to a rocky start before the season started with the season-ending injury to Dante Exum, who tore his ACL during international play. Then, the Jazz lost center Rudy Gobert for a couple weeks with a sprained MCL a month into the season. The Jazz have adjusted by playing more small-ball, but their interior depth is in shambles.
Point guard Trey Burke seems to have improved the most this offseason, and is thriving in his role as a 6th man. Alec Burks also seems to have found his niche in the league as a good two-way guard off the bench. Why the Jazz are still starting Raul Neto at point guard is a mystery to me. Up front, Derrick Favors is now the only playable big for the Jazz. Jeff Withey is a third string center in this league, at best, and Tibor Pleiβ is still developing.3 Big Things
The Jazz stayed in the game against the Thunder on Friday because they stayed with their small ball lineups. The Thunder stayed with their normal lineup that featured 2 bigs and controlled the lead for the most part. But in the fourth quarter, the Jazz used their small ball lineup to get up and down the court quicker and eventually tied the game with 1:26 left in the game. It will be interesting to see if Billy Donovan plays the Thunder’s small-ball lineup more in this game.
The last two games from Durant have been a bit strange. He’s been good, but he’s been a lot more giving with the basketball. He’s “let the game come to him” in these past two games, and it has felt a bit strange. Not that Durant has ever been selfish. But he’s never felt this giving either.
Home/Road Back to Back
These home/road back to backs against the same team are horrible for writers. What more information do I have to give you that I didn’t already give you in the last primer?