|2012-2013 NBA Season|
|March 12th, 2013|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma|
|7:00 PM CDT|
|Entertainment Sports Programming Network, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma|
|WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), Fox Sports Radio (97.5)|
|SLC DunkSalt City Hoops|
|Previous Meetings: Nov 30th, Feb 12th (Season Series Tied at 1-1)|
|Injury Report: Paul Millsap (Questionable)|
|Mo Williams||PG||Russell Westbrook|
|Randy Foye||SG||Thabo Sefolosha|
|DeMarre Carroll||SF||Kevin Durant|
|Derrick Favors (Paul Millsap?)||PF||Serge Ibaka|
|Al Jefferson||C||Kendrick Perkins|
With the Thunder's hopes of the top seed in the Western Conference momentarily dashed, their attention now turns to sealing the second seed and closing the door on the Northwest Division. Utah is hardly a threat to pass Oklahoma City in the standings, and making the playoffs is far from a certainty for them. But the advantage of the Thunder winning their final two games against the Jazz is two-fold. For one, it increases their division record, which might determine seeding if Denver decides to catch up with the Thunder. (Currently, Denver holds a 2-1 advantage against the Thunder, with the final game to be played in OKC.) For two, winning against the Jazz keeps us from seeing them in the first round as a 1 or 2 seed, which is a situation that should be avoided, because they're the most capable of beating us among the lower seeded teams.
What advantage does Utah have? Well, it starts on the interior. The Jazz have the deepest and fiercest paint core in the league, and totally destroyed the Thunder back in February. Jefferson, Milsap, and Favors were all able to achieve double figures while shooting around 50%. Furthermore, the Jazz were able to totally dominate the offensive rebounding game, grabbing nine more than the Thunder did.
But the thing that was more embarrassing about February's loss was the number of turnovers Utah was able to force. The Jazz were able to collapse on Russell Westbrook like no other, and the Thunder ended up with 20 TOs, 5 more than their season average. This completely undermined a solid shooting effort from the team and led to the Thunder giving up the game in the fourth.
Can the Thunder beat the Jazz? Sure. Look no further than their November win against the team. They were able to get excellent production out of Kendrick Perkins in the post, and this was back when Kevin Martin was actually scoring in bunches. Overall, the key difference was the ability to get defensive rebounds. Offensive rebounds and turnovers were still a problem, but the Thunder controlled the rebounding well enough to get them opportunities to score. As long as the Thunder can control the ball, there's no way the Jazz can outscore them.
This is especially true if Paul Millsap doesn't play tonight. It's unknown whether his knee will be ready to go right now, but his post presence could be the key to a Jazz win. Kanter is there if he doesn't play though, so the Jazz are still threatening regardless.
Lastly, I think the Thunder need to put some serious thought into their lineups. Whether or not to sit Kevin Durant has been a huge issue lately, and this game could definitely be one of those where he gets sucked into playing over 40 minutes. Plus, Derek Fisher was a huge reason for Monday's second quarter collapse against the Spurs, so his presence is an issue as well. And really, will Kevin Martin ever score again?
Issues are everywhere, certainty is nowhere. But if it's at home and Milsap isn't 100%, the Thunder should be able to close this one out. Should be.