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Thunder vs. Jazz: Pregame Primer

Thunder vs. Jazz: Pregame Primer



Thunder (15-10, 5-5 road) vs. Jazz (15-10, 8-5 home)

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 8: 00 PM CST

Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)

  • Offensive Rating: Thunder – 102.5 (21st), Jazz – 107.8 (8th)
    Defensive Rating: Thunder – 102.1 (8th), Jazz – 101.3 (4th)

Injuries are the ultimate common denominator in any sport. Take Stephen Curry off the Warriors for any significant amount of time, and those Warriors won’t be your 2 year old child’s Warriors. Take Dirk Nowitzki off the Dallas Mavericks and they go from middle of the pack team to challenging for the No. 1 pick. If there is one thing the Victor Oladipo injury is showing the Oklahoma City Thunder, it’s the fragility of their roster. Completely healthy, this team is in the upper middle class in the NBA. Take him off, and not only do the Thunder struggle to score, but they also struggle when Russell Westbrook goes to the bench.

In reality, though, the Thunder are currently missing two rotation players: Oladipo and Cameron Payne. Payne has been out since September 27th, when he re-broke his foot during the Thunder Blue and White scrimmage. As of yesterday, it has been 11 weeks since Payne has been out. He chose to forego surgery, and instead, went the rest and recovery route. The Thunder initially had a 6-8 week timetable for re-evaluation, but of course, that timetable has since expired. According to various sources around the team, Payne is coming along slowly and should see the court soon. No offense to Semaj Christon, but for the Thunder’s sake, that day can’t come soon enough.

Season Series Preview

This is the first of four meetings between these Northwest division rivals. The Thunder swept the season series last year, 4 games to none, as they won their games by an average of 13.5 points.

The Opponent

The Jazz come into this game with a 15-10 record, having won 8 of their last 10 games. The Jazz have faced their fair share of injuries woes to begin this season, but seem to be finally getting healthy. They get Derrick Favors back tonight, after missing the last 13 games with a knee bruise. Also returning to the line-up is shooting guard Rodney Hood, who has missed the last 2 games with a hamstring injury. Point guard George Hill will remain out for the Jazz with a toe injury.

Gordon Hayward has quietly become one of the best all-around talents in the game. He is currently averaging 23.3 points, 6.4 boards, and 3.8 assists on 45/36/89 shooting splits. Rudy Gobert has gotten a lot more comfortable as the defensive anchor for the team and is flourishing in his role. The 7-foot Frenchman is averaging a double-double with 11.8 points and 11.6 rebounds per game to go along with nearly 2.8 blocks. Second-year player Trey Lyles is turning into a great glue-guy for the Jazz, with the ability to play multiple front-court positions. Joe Johnson, Shelvin Mack, Joe Ingles, and Boris Diaw man a reserve unit that is veteran-laden.


  • Cameron Payne (foot)
  • Victor Oladipo (wrist)

3 Big Things

1. Rebounding

Both teams are good at grabbing the caroms. The Thunder ranked 3rd in Rebound % at 52.2%, while the Jazz rank 8th at 50.9%. The major difference comes on the offensive glass, where the Thunder grab over a quarter (25.4%) of the available offensive rebounds to them, while the Jazz grab just 21%. The addition of Derrick Favors to the rotation may help the Jazz on the glass, but he will be on a minutes restriction, and will be playing just 10-15 minutes tonight. If the Thunder can take advantage of the offensive glass tonight, they may be able to tip the game in their favor.

2. Bench

That was a horrible showing by the bench last night. There is no other way to put it. When Russell Westbrook went out of the game in the first quarter with just under 3 minutes left in the quarter, the Thunder were up by 6 points and controlling the tempo of the game. By the time Westbrook came back into the game with 8:41 left in the 2nd quarter, the Thunder were down 7. A 13-point swing in the time that Westbrook was on the bench. The team never recovered from that.

The bench will have to play better for the Thunder to have a chance in this game. Westbrook can’t play all 48 minutes of the game. For all the limitations the players on the bench have, they will have to play to their strengths and try to hang with the veterans on Utah’s bench.

3. Anthony Morrow

Last night, in a surprise move, the Thunder started Jerami Grant at the 3. While this worked for a quarter, the Trailblazers eventually read the scouting reports on the Thunder and realized that they could sag off the other players on the Thunder and pack the paint to avoid a statistical bonanza from Westbrook. That won’t be necessary for the Jazz. If Billy Donovan decides once again to start 4 non-floor spacers with Westbrook, this game will be over by the middle of the first quarter. Utah is that good defensively.

This is where Anthony Morrow comes into the picture. Utah’s wings aren’t the pick and roll, dribble penetration types. Instead, they are spot-up shooters (Rodney Hood) or bully-wing mid-rangers (Joe Johnson). Morrow’s limitations on defense should not come into play tonight.