Time: 8:30 PM CST
TV: ESPN & FSOK
The Thunder’s stretch run begins tonight in Oklahoma City, as Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz are in town for a Northwest Division showdown. The Thunder won 11 of 13 heading into the All-Star break and find themselves comfortably in third place in the Western Conference. Led by their defense and a strong collection of role players, the Jazz are currently sixth in the West and five games back of an OKC team that has a 2-0 lead in the season series.
Tip-off is at 8:30 PM CST and will be televised on ESPN and Fox Sports Oklahoma. The Thunder are 3.5-point home favorites according to Odds Shark.
- Markieff Morris: Questionable — New Here
- Andre Roberson: Out — Knee
- Dante Exum: Out — Ankle
- Tony Bradley: Out — Knee
Jazz: Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert
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What to Watch For
Keef Watch. It’s yet to be announced if Markieff Morris will make his Thunder debut tonight in OKC, but the general vibe around the team is fans will indeed get their first look at the newest piece of the puzzle against the Jazz. The minutes may start low and build, or Billy Donovan may elect to throw Morris directly into the fire. We won’t know until he steps onto the floor, but Dennis Schroder (with his golden hair patch back in all its glory) alluded to Morris making his debut while speaking with the media earlier today. That will be the expectation until someone says otherwise.
Offense/Defense. Though OKC has the third-best defensive rating in the league this season at 105.2, it was the offense that came alive and propelled the team to 11 wins in their last 13 games. While shooting 40 percent from long range since the turn of the new year has been nice, the Jazz have the fourth-best DRTG in basketball at 105.4 and haven’t seen a similar decline in their ability to slow opposing offenses down. The Thunder will either need to stay hot from long range and get buckets against a defense that’s proven capable of making that difficult, or lock back in on the defensive end and win it the old fashioned way. It wouldn’t be shocking to see this one decided by who’s willing to grind it out.
Defending the Jazz. Mitchell leads the Jazz in scoring at 22.4 PPG, and will require the Terrance Ferguson treatment tonight in OKC. Rudy Gobert (who probably should have been an All-Star) is averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while anchoring the Utah defense. He’ll look to clog things up at the rim in a crucial match-up with Steven Adams. Utah gives up the fewest second-chance points in basketball, so Big Kiwi’s ability to disrupt that would go a long way toward an OKC victory.
Outside of those two, Ricky Rubio (13 PPG), Jae Crowder (11.8 PPG), Joe Ingles (11.7 PPG), and Derrick Favors (11 PPG) round out Utah’s double-digit scorers. They have the seventh-worst three-point percentage in the league (34.6%), but keeping a close eye on Ingles and Kyle Korver will be paramount. Both men are capable of getting hot and making the Jazz a much deadlier team from beyond the arc.
Continuing the Campaign/History. PG13 loaded the Thunder on his back in the 13 games preceding the All-star break, averaging 35.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 2.3 steals on 46 percent shooting from long range. While the stretch of basketball made his MVP campaign undeniable, asking him to keep it up may be too tall of an order for a mere mortal. Should some of the scoring/heroics burden need to be shared by others, Russell Westbrook — who enters with 11 straight triple-doubles — will need to step up and hit some shots. His all-around play this season has been masterful outside of his shooting, but Gobert’s presence may keep him away from the rim and force him into jumpers. Assuming that’s Utah’s exact plan, Westbrook will need to find his rhythm and maintain spacing by keeping the Jazz honest.
The Playoff Push. With 25 games remaining in the regular season, the Thunder can kick off their playoff push in style by beating the Jazz tonight at home. A win would secure the season series — potentially valuable as things get tight down the stretch — and re-establish some of the momentum from before the break. Nothing about OKC’s remaining schedule is easy, but getting off on the right foot could make a world of difference.