Time: 7:00 PM Central Standard Time
Place: Oklahoma City Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
TV: FSOKHD, FOX ROCKY
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), 99X 97.9 FM
Previous Meeting(s): Thunder 121, Jazz 105
The Thunder last played the Utah Jazz on February 5th. This date is significant, because it was before both teams' worlds were turned upside down. On February 5th, the Jazz were still coached by coaching legend Jerry Sloan and the offense was being run by top three point guard Deron Williams. Perhaps the Thunder's crushing defeat of the Jazz in Utah that night was part of the impetus for the wholesale changes, or perhaps it was merely incidental to a transition that was already months in the making. What has become apparent is that the Jazz were sinking then and they are at the bottom of the ocean now.
Here is the one outstanding question I have for the Jazz:
Does Utah still think it can get into the playoffs?
If the Jazz don't think they can (and as of today they're three games out of 8th place), then I wonder if they're going to do anything different than these past few games they've played. They haven't defended well, the team is being outscored in its last 25 games by an average of over 5 points per, and over the course of the last 10 games the Jazz are 4-6.
Let's take a gander over to SB Nation's very own SLC Dunk:
One under contract in 2011-12 already has acknowledged that his time in Salt Lake City will likely come to an end once a season that has not lived up to expectations is over. - Brian T Smith
That last statement is the most disconcerting. If you have a guy already thinking that he's going to be gone next season, then what is he playing for?
If we've got one vet checked out, then how does that translate to their play on the court and how does it impact other players? - SLC Dunk
I have sympathy for the Jazz, because I've seen that scenario happen every season with teams who through a myriad of events have their seasons washed down the drain. So as their writer asks, what are they playing for?
Of course, the Thunder answer should be: the playoffs.
I honestly don't know if the Thunder did not take the Raptors seriously, but by my account, they did and were just outplayed. However, if there was a portion of the team that wasn't fully focused on Toronto, I think the cold dose of reality snapped them to attention and I hope the team plays with more urgency tonight, especially in the first half.
Keys to tonight's game:
- The Thunder lead in the regular season series 2-1, but I'm sure the early season blowout is still in the back of the players' minds. Up to this point the Thunder have not had an answer for Paul Millsap on the inside, but of course they did not have a front line featuring Kendrick Perkins either. It will be interesting to see whether the Thunder take the approach of "stop the #1 option" or "stop everyone else." I'm kind of guessing the former.
- The Thunder need to get better shot selection from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Specifically regarding Durant, there were some stories over the weekend about how he had a bruised shoulder, but nothing was ever made of it either before or after the Raptors loss. For most of that game though, he didn't look quite right. The Jazz defense doesn't possess the kind of length that the Raptors does, so I'd look to see if he tries to get in closer to the rim early. As for Westbrook, a huge part of his domination comes from finishing at the rim, and as of late he hasn't been as successful. In fact, try this on for size - Westbrook actually shoots better from 10-15 feet than from 3-9 feet.
- The Thunder have done a terrific job at keeping the turnovers low, and once again it will be imperative that Westbrook maintain control. Devin Harris is a quick guy and if he plays, Westbrook will need to win the match-up.
At the end of the day, a win against the Jazz tonight will come as long as the Thunder focus on doing their core things well - defending, rebounding, and keeping Durant close to the rim.
Prediction: Thunder 105, Jazz 95