Utah Jazz (42-23, 17-15 road) vs. Okla. City Thunder (40-24, 21-11 home)
Offensive Rating: Thunder – 106.7 (16th), Jazz – 110.4 (7th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 103.1 (6th), Jazz – 104.7 (9th)
Pace: Thunder – 92.9 (14th), Jazz – 93.1 (12rd)
View from the enemy: Salt City Hoops
To this point, in my humble opinion, this is the most important, biggest game of the season. There really is no question in my mind. Currently, Oklahoma City sits 1.5 games back of Utah in the West for fourth. The Thunder already is 2-0 against the Jazz, so a win would lock away a season series win for the Thunder and a potential valuable tiebreaker. Plus, since the Jazz are possibly a playoff opponent, establishing some semblance of dominance over them would be excellent.
The good news for OKC is, three Jazz players will be sitting this one out. Andrei Kirilenko, Ronnie Price and Mehmet Okur all three won’t be participating tonight. So in an influential, important swing game in the West, the Thunder has the fuller roster.
Utah coming in: The Jazz have played some of the best basketball in the league since January. Utah has been near unstoppable, but recently lost Friday night in Milwaukee. They’re an awesome home team and while they’ve recently started winning on the road, they’re still just 17-15 outside of Salt Lake.
I truly think this is one of the best matchups for the Thunder among the elite teams. The Jazz play a slowdown, grind it out style without a ton of athleticism and length. And OKC is the exact opposite. Utah struggles with fast, athletic teams that defend (see the Milwaukee game) so I like the Thunder logistically.
What’s tough is guarding Deron Williams. Russell Westbrook did a decent job the last time the team’s met, but Williams turned on his game in the fourth quarter and nearly took the game over. But of course, OKC holds an advantage because of the versatility of Thabo, so switching him over helps. Off the ball, C.J. Miles is a quality shooter for Williams to kick to, plus he’s a good defender. He splits time with rookie Wesley Matthews who can get on a roll and score the ball well.
Andrei Kirilenko is a good defender and has the body and length to defend Kevin Durant, but obviously he’s out. I’m guessing it’ll be Miles and just a group effort on KD. Carlos Boozer should have his way inside on Jeff Green, Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka, but the Thunder has enough bodies to throw at him that they may be able to get him in foul trouble. Paul Millsap is hit and miss often times, but if he’s playing well, Utah is tough inside.
The Jazz have excellent role players in Kyle Korver and Miles that can all have big nights. And with no James Harden, OKC’s bench will need someone to step up. Maybe that’s former Jazzercizer Eric Maynor. Maybe it’s Ibaka. Maybe it’s Nenad Krstic getting hot with his jumper. Whoever it is, OKC needs someone to step up.
Us Thunder fans really don’t know what the playoffs are like and we’re not sure what to expect intensity wise. But I think tonight’s game will be a pretty good primer for that. The Ford Center will certainly have an added energy to it, the players will get after it and I’d imagine the game will be a bit physical. If you’re not completely stoked for this one, you just need to quit watching.
Tip at 6:00 CST. Go Thundercizers.