Thunder (25-19, 10-13 road) vs. Jazz (29-16, 16-7 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 – 104.9 (16th), Jazz – 107.0 (9th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 104.6 (10th), Jazz – 101.3 (2nd)
Long breaks during the NBA season can be viewed in one of two ways depending on how a team is doing before the break. They are either a halter of momentum or a much needed respite from a swoon. For the Oklahoma City Thunder, this break probably represents the latter. After going 1-3 in the first four games of their 6-game road trip, the Thunder probably needed a little time to not only regroup, but also get their minds off of basketball. January has been a grind for the Thunder, with 8 road games up to this point, as compared to only 2 home games.
While 10 games in 22 days may not seem like a lot, it’s the travel and the ‘not being able to sleep in your own bed,’ that can start to catch up with an athlete physically. In addition, the Thunder have been without Steven Adams for the past two games because of a concussion, and, according to Brett Dawson of the Oklahoman, he’s not a guarantee to play in tonight’s game either. With that on the horizon, the Thunder have been able to fit in a few practices without Adams to get further acclimated to life without their interior defensive anchor behind them.
Season Series Summary
This is the second of four meetings between the two teams that will likely be vying for the Northwest division crown. The Jazz won the first meeting in Utah by 20 in a game that saw the Jazz jump out to an early lead and never relinquish it.
The Jazz come into this game with a 29-16 record, having won their last 6 games. It’s no surprise that Utah’s best showings this season have coincided with point guard George Hill being in the line-up. The Jazz are 17-4 with Hill in the line-up and 12-12 without him. Compared to their point guard stable from the past three seasons, Hill gives the Jazz a veteran presence that is a game manager, a great defender, and a floor spacer. Though he’s only averaging 4 assists this season, he’s complementing that by shooting 45% from deep. That has allowed Gordon Hayward to be the main driver/play-maker on the team, especially with 3-point specialist Rodney Hood being on other wing.
Up front, Rudy Gobert is turning into what every team that drafts a tall, lanky center wants. He’s averaging 12.9 points, 12.7 rebounds, and a league-leading 2.5 blocks per game, while shooting 67% from the field. He’s without a doubt, their defensive anchor and will likely get some votes in the Defensive Player of the Year voting. His partner on the front line, Derrick Favors, has had a bit of a down year, but is still a nightly threat for a double-double. Their bench is one of the best in the league, featuring a combination of vets and developing role players. Their depth has been a huge key in their recent success.
Steven Adams (concussion protocol) – Gametime Decision
3 Big Things
1. Perimeter Defense
The Jazz feature four rotation players that shoot at least 40% from deep. Their offense has evolved to be more in tune with today’s game. The additions of Hill, Joe Johnson, and Boris Diaw have given the Jazz further threats from the perimeter to help space the floor for Hayward and Gobert. The Thunder back court will need to do a better job of staying with their man throughout the game, as to not allow the Jazz shooters to get loose.
2. Make Perimeter Shots
It sounds very rudimentary, but making perimeter shots is one of the keys to beating the Jazz. In their last meeting against Utah, the Thunder shot 36.6%. Not from three. They shot that from the field for the entire game. Victor Oladipo was out for that game, so with one of the only outside threats for the Thunder being out, the Jazz were content with completely walling off the paint and taking their chances on the Thunder’s shot-making ability from 15 feet out. And it worked. Russell Westbrook shot 7-25 from the field and had 5 turnovers for his 5 assists in the game.
3. Enes Kanter
The Thunder need an “eff you” game from Kanter against his former team. Kevin Durant has had two of those games against the Thunder this season. So did Serge Ibaka in his only visit to OKC. But Kanter has yet to have that sort of game against the Jazz. Don’t get me wrong. He’s had good games. But they’ve been just that: good. Especially with the possibility of Adams being out, the Thunder need more than ever for Kanter to have one of his vintage 20/15 games. Here’s the good news: As much as I want this to happen, so too does Kanter, especially in front of the Utah faithful.