Time: 9:30 PM Central Standard Time
Place: EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, UT
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1)
The Thunder conclude their road trip tonight by paying a visit to the Utah Jazz. Utah is struggling to stay above .500 after starting the season well, but still have a strong 11-4 home record and have beaten a number of quality opponents so far. Though they are on a two game losing streak, the Jazz have played well enough this season to defeat the Nuggets, Clippers, and Trail Blazers, so OKC must have a better game plan in place tonight if they are to recover from last night's poor effort.
The Jazz are an inside-out team, which is the exact opposite of the Thunder. Their offensive thrust begins with their two talented big men, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. Both of these players have had good success against the Thunder in the past, taking turns scoring 30+ points against the Thunder interior. Given OKC's struggles against LaMarcus Aldridge this week, the Thunder must acknowledge that their fortunes will lie on being physical with Jefferson and Millsap and keeping them off the offensive boards.
Utah is not a highly potent team from the guard position, but one player that the Thunder must be aware of is Devin Harris. Harris is yet another super-quick scoring point guard who can get into the lane and finish around the rim. It would be terrific if the Thunder were able to limit Harris below his career high tonight (47 is the high water mark). The Thunder guards have a clear advantage over the Jazz back-court, but they must be patient and allow their advantages to manifest over the course of the game.
Up to this point it has been easy to give the Thunder the benefit of the doubt in many of these games, but I think that tonight is the first one where the burden is on the Thunder to prove that they're worth their salt. At this point in the first half of the season, we cannot still just assume that they'll come out focused on defense, rebound well, and take care of the ball; they haven't been, and now they have to reverse all of these trends.
I think the Thunder will be competitive, but I feel that the Kings game wasn't their true reality check; rather, this game will be. I believe this will be the case because OKC is being stripped away of its self-perception in order to better understand who they really are. I think that the last aspect of that off-reality is in their self-assurance that they can always bounce back. In the NBA, it's just not that easy.
Prediction: Jazz 98, Thunder 95