Utah Jazz (18-13, 6-9 road) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (17-14, 8-7 home)
Offensive Rating: Thunder – 106.8 (18th), Jazz – 108.0 (12nd)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 104.5 (8th), Jazz – 105.3 (10th)
Pace: Thunder – 92.1 (20th), Jazz – 92.5 (16th)
View from the enemy: Salt City Hoops
It’s still December. There are 51 games yet to be played. But… this feels like a huge game. I guess when you haven’t really had a lot of big ones, or really ANY big ones, a game against a division rival that you happen to be a game behind for the eighth playoff spot feels big.
No, it’s not all over if OKC comes up short. And it’s not time to throw things are curse the sky. But winning a fifth straight and beating the Jazz – a team that the Thunder will likely battle all year for that last spot – would be rather large. The fact the game is at home on New Year’s Eve adds to the excitement, but it could be played on a Wednesday morning and I’d be psyched.
The Jazz coming in: Utah has won three of its last five, with wins over Charlotte, Philly and Minnesota with losses at Orlando and Miami. The Jazz are wrapping up a stretch where they’ve played seven of eight opponents on the road, including a game last night, so they may be a little weary. Utah is always good at home (12-4) but they’re just 6-9 away from Salt Lake.
Deron Williams vs. Russell Westbrook. That’s big matchup No. 1. Carlos Boozer vs. Jeff Green. And that’s big matchup No. 2. Green will almost certainly struggle to contain the bruising Boozer, but with the way Westbrook has been playing, I think he’ll be able to counter Williams’ production. The team that gets the best of these two matchups will likely win. Westbrook stymied Williams in the last meeting, holding him to just 10 points on 5-14 shooting and nine assists.
C.J. Miles and Andrei Kirilenko will tag team to defend Kevin Durant tonight, with Ronnie Brewer likely getting a little time too. Kirilenko used to be an absolute nightmare for KD, but Kirilenko isn’t healthy and doesn’t play a lot of minutes and KD lit Utah up for 28 on 11-22 shooting last time.
The Thunder bench will play a big role again, as Utah has Paul Millsap and rookie Wesley Matthews anchoring theirs. But again, it should be a Thunder advantage with Eric Maynor (GOING AGAINST HIS OLD TEAM!1!!), Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and James Harden. The Thunder’s nine-man rotation is just really strong.
Again, big game for lots of reasons. But if you need one parting shot to get you psyched for this one, consider this – The NBA: Where Mehmet Okur vs. Nenad Krstic happens.
Tip at 7:00 CST. Go New Year.