We're already at Game 2 of the Pre-Season, and we still live in very intriguing times. After a lackluster performance in Wednesday Night's game against Houston, James Harden will be sitting due to a groin injury. However, Ibaka will be back in action for the first time since the Olympics, after recovering from a quad injury during Wednesday's game.
It seems convenient, especially with the Thunder going against the Jazz, who have more quality bigs then you could shake a fist at. Having Al Jefferson, Enes Kanter, Paul Milsap, and Derrick favors filling up two spots on the floor makes for the deepest quality front court in the NBA, so it will be nice to see Ibaka get in some work against them. Not to mention Thabeet and Aldrich, who had a field day against the undersized Rockets.
The Jazz, as of this writing, don't have any injuries aside from Earl Watson, so we'll see the full force of their team. They did some minor re-focusin over the off-season, attempting to breathe some scoring power into their formerly defensive-focused back court. A off-season trade saw them land point guard Mo Williams, who's a better three point shooter than Devin Harris. As a result, they sent off Harris for Marvin Williams, a solid small forward. Lastly, they signed Randy Foye and let the older Josh Howard, Raja Bell, and C.J. Miles walk into free agency.
The pieces are all together for a average-to-solid back court, with a more diverse offense, if a bit of a weaker defense. Whether that back court can succeed really depends on whether Hayward, Williams, or Foye can step up and find ways to provide the points night in and night out. They don't have to be world beaters, but as long as they can be efficient, the front court can do the rest.
What this means tonight is that we won't see tons of time for players outside of the Jazz' expected 10 man rotation. Since they're still trying to figure out a gameplan, we'll probably see lots of lineup changes as well. Also, it means that the Thunder will likely lose this game, because most of their rotation is figured out and Westbrook, Durant, and Ibaka might sit out the entire second half.
When you're looking at the Thunder tonight, keep an eye on the backup point guard battle between Reggie Jackson and Eric Maynor. The Jazz's weak back court gives them a chance to shine. Both had trouble scoring in the first pre-season game, and Maynor jacked up a lot of threes.
Also keep an eye on the Thabeet-Aldrich battle for the backup big spot. Aldrich has the clear advantage now, but a breakout game from Thabeet could make all the difference. Lastly, DeAndre Liggins was a big surprise in the first game, and looks to be the front runner in the battle for the 15th roster spot. If he continues to get time and Rautins, Orton, and Thompson don't, it could be a sign.
Prediction: Utah Jazz 95, Oklahoma City Thunder 84