4 min read

Thunder vs. Jazz: Pregame Primer

Thunder (8-6, 2-3 road) vs. Jazz (6-6, 2-1 home) 

TV: FS Oklahoma
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 8:00 PM CST

Offensive Rating: Thunder – 110.1 (2nd), Jazz – 103.2 (18th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 105.6 (18th), Jazz – 100.3 (8th)

It can be a strange thing at times being a basketball fan. In this video game/fantasy sports culture that we live in, we expect our players to play up to the rankings we see all the time. We expect the two man game between Enes Kanter and Russell Westbrook to generate 18-24 points every night. We expect Dion Waiters to find someway to score 12-15 points every game. We expect Serge Ibaka to put up 16 points, 8 boards, and 2 blocks every night. What our shortsightedness as fans fails to see is that averages are a culmination of parts to a whole. Within a season, a 25 point per game scorer has games where he scores 35 and games in which is scores 15. The 35 point games look great, while the 15 point games can look pedestrian.

With that said, when you look at a game like Sunday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks, you may have the urge to ask yourself, “Where was that game against New York? against Memphis? against Boston?” This was a game where the Thunder shared the ball, the bench played relatively well, the team played great late game defense, and players other than Russell Westbrook contributed. If this happens in either of the other three games that resulted in a loss, the Thunder are likely sitting with a much better record. But then again, the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde duality that is the Thunder is usually present, not just between games, but also within games.

This is the first of four meetings between these two Northwest division rivals. The Thunder and Jazz split their season series last year, with every game being won by the home team. The final meeting of the season was memorable for the fact that Enes Kanter returned back to Utah where he had some choice words for the organization before the game. Of course, that didn’t really help him on the floor that night as the Thunder lost the game. But WWE theatrics are welcomed every once and a while in the lengthy NBA season.

The Opponent

The Jazz come into the game with a 6-6 record. They’ve had a road heavy schedule up to this point (9 of 12 games), and begin a stretch where they play 15 of their next 21 at home. The Jazz continue with where they left off last season as one of the better defensive teams in the league. The front court duo of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors continues to be one of the best defensive front courts in the league, with Favors expanding his offensive output (16.2 points per game). On the wing, Gordon Hayward’s production has gone down a bit from last season as he has struggled in finding his shot.

The offseason injury to Dante Exum really affected the continued development of this team, as Exum’s length added another layer of defense on the perimeter that cannot be matched by any of their other guards. Alec Burks and Rodney Hood can be inconsistent from the perimeter, but do have times where they can hit nearly everything they throw up. Trey Burke has found a nice role as a back-up point guard that seems to work with his skill set. This team is young, but have a good defensive foundation to build off of.

3 Big Things

Enes Kanter

I doubt there will be any verbal theatrics from Kanter this time around. But when it comes to a rivalry, which the Jazz are trying to build, anything that can be used as bulletin board material will be used. You can be sure that Jazz fans will remember what was said by Kanter and will let him know about their displeasure every time his name is mentioned or he touches the ball. Trevor Booker, who was just as retaliatory against Kanter, may even get a bit physical with Kanter tonight. It will be interesting to see how Kanter reacts.

Jazz Offense

The Jazz are pretty anemic when it comes to the offensive end of the floor. They struggle in the half-court due to their inconsistent shooting, but also aren’t known as a transition team. They are dead last in assists per game (18.0), and are second to last in points per game (95.1). If the Thunder can keep the Jazz to their averages on the offensive end of the court, they should be able to outscore the Jazz with their firepower.

Bench Play

The reserves did a much better job in their minutes against Dallas. One of the adjustments Donovan made was to play Roberson with the reserves. His defensive presence allowed them to deflect the runs from the Mavs and focus on scoring on their end of the floor. Every bench player had a positive +/- except for Cameron Payne. The Jazz bench is young and not as inclined to defense as the starters. If the Thunder reserves can take advantage of the Jazz’s youth, they may go a long way in helping the Thunder to victory.

Bonus: Durant

At the time of the publication, it was still unknown if Kevin Durant would play or not. According to Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman, Durant worked out a lot today and the pre-game workout may determine whether he laces them up in this game or not.

EDIT: Durant will play tonight!!!!!