On Friday, the Oklahoma City Thunder will host the Utah Jazz in both teams’ first game since the All-Star Break. This will be the third meeting between these two teams this season, with OKC winning both previous games.
The Thunder and Jazz are familiar with each other beyond the regular season. Last year, they met in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs as the fourth and fifth seed matchup. The Jazz won the series in six games games, advancing to play the Houston Rockets in the second round.
This series was one of the best of the entire playoffs last season. The Jazz, led by rookie Donovan Mitchell, faced off against the Thunder and their ‘big three’ of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. The trio wasn’t enough to beat Utah.
Both home courts had a playoff energy that made for an intense series. Friday’s matchup could not only give us more great basketball, but could foreshadow things to come. With OKC at the third seed, and Utah at the sixth, we could potentially see these two teams in the first round again.
This OKC team is a lot better than last years’. Carmelo Anthony, who shot 37 percent and scored only 11 points per game in the Jazz series, is no longer with the team. This has proven to be addition by subtraction for the Thunder, as the team looks more productive, and better chemistry-wise.
Russell Westbrook, while struggling as far as shooting percentage goes, is still averaging a triple-double. At 21 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds, Westbrook is on a historic run. Paul George is having a career year, and is in the running for MVP. Both players were selected to this year’s All-Star Game.
Steven Adams, along with newly-acquired Dennis Schröder, are also key contributors. The Thunder have improved defensively since last season, having the third highest defensive rating in the NBA. George and Westbrook lead the league in steals at 2.3 and 2.2 respectively.
Jazz Staying Solid
Utah is on pace to have a similar record as they did last season, winning 48 games. The Jazz are still playing their brand of team basketball with a similar cast as last year.
Mitchell has not had the sophomore slump that some rookies face. This season he is averaging 22 points, four rebounds and four assists per game. Many considered him an All-Star snub for his numbers.
Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert also missed the All-Star Game despite averaging 15 points and 12 rebounds, while maintaining his defensive prowess with two blocks per game. Ricky Rubio, Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder make for a strong supporting cast around Gobert and Mitchell.
The Jazz are a solid team, but haven’t made much of a leap since last season, especially in the crowded Western Conference.
George will be the difference maker for the Thunder going forward. Playing better since last season, the Jazz will have a harder time matching up, in Friday’s game and potentially in the playoffs.
A post-season x-factor could be Andre Roberson, one of OKC’s best defenders, who could potentially be back from injury by playoff time.
This is a Thunder team that looks a lot different from last year, in addition to having a chip on their shoulder after losing to the underdog Jazz last season.
OKC’s firepower and strong defense will win them this matchup: 116-105