Jazz vs. Thunder: Pre-game view

vs.

Utah Jazz (23-15) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (6-33)
Wednesday, Jan. 14
Ford Center
Oklahoma City, OK
7:00 PM CST

TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD 722)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM)

Well, it’s time to celebrate. Not a single Sooner underclassman is going to make the jump pro this year. Sam Bradford, Trent Williams, Gerald McCoy and Jermaine Gresham will all return for another run at No. 8. What’s that? This blog is about basketball?

After the New Jersey loss, I said I had a feeling a big home win was coming. And I think it is. Utah is another plus .500 club, but they’re very average on the road. The Jazz are 16-4 at home and 7-11 on the road. Though the Jazz are suffering from injuries, they’re still a really good team. No Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams still isn’t totally 100 percent, but Mehmet Okur has played huge. He’s a guy I really wanted OKC to go after because I love his inside/outside game. Nenad Krstic has a bit of the same game, but Okur is really a good three point shooter. He’ll make for a tough matchup for Nick Collison and Krstic.

The last time the two teams met, Utah had a 29 point lead, laid off and the Thunder stormed back to within a few points before losing 104-97. But this group is different. They’re in (pretty much) every game and they’re competing throughout. Kevin Durant is rounding into a complete player and we all know what Russell Westbrook is doing. Add in what Kyle Weaver has started to add and it’s just a matter of time until these guys start winning these close ones instead of coming up one shot, one turnover, one free throw short. Just for perspective: The Thunder have lost 14 games this year by six or less. That’s pretty incredible. Just turn half those into wins and you’re looking at a 13-27 record, which would be huge for this young of a team. But that’s the point — they’re young and they’re learning.

If there’s anything to really focus on, it has to be turnovers. Ron Adams spoke about it after last game, but you just can’t turn it over 22 times and expect to win. There’s enough talent and enough desire to keep it close, but those little things need to be tightened. Free throw shooting has been corrected pretty much, but turnovers need to be cut down. Granted, with a rookie playing point and two second year guys playing the three and four, it’s understandable the ball’s getting turned over.

I fully expect this to be close deep into the fourth quarter. The Jazz have some star power and some really good players, but again, they’re not great on the road and the Thunder’s gaining a little momentum. OKC has won three of its last seven and has lost three in that stretch by a total of eight points.

One other note: David Thorpe’s Rookie Watch is out today and Russell Westbrook is No. 2. That’s pretty awesome. He says this about RW: “Westbrook is rapidly improving, and we can project him to be capable of running a terrific team one day. He also has the potential to be an All-Star. He has a long way to go as a shooter, but give credit to head coach Scott Brooks for letting Westbrook do what he does best on offense: Rebound. Westbrook reminds me of a young Dwyane Wade, relentless on the glass with his effort, long arms, great timing and big hops. He’s a rebounding difference-maker, something point guards usually aren’t. Teams already tweak their game plan when preparing to face him, and he just turned 20 years old. Westbrook is basically tied with power forward Nick Collison for the team lead in offensive rebounds per game. The Thunder may sit last in the NBA standings, but they rank 11th in offensive rebound rate.”

Thorpe also tosses Kyle Weaver into the mix: “Weaver has appeared in 15 games this season, and the Thunder lost every one of those games except for their win over the Bulls on Saturday. That’s ironic because Weaver is the kind of player whom winning teams almost always have — a player who takes good shots (and makes half of them) and can defend multiple positions. With Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Westbrook, and now Nenad Krstic, the Thunder appear to have a set of talented core players. Weaver could be one of the glue guys who helps make the team special.”