In movies, when portraying some form of gladiatorial combat or competition, we're particularly fond of using the phrase "To the death!" Implying that literally everything is about to be on the line gets audiences on the edge of their seats. If you lose, it's final. There's no turning back, and you might literally even cease to exist.
The same is true for movies that don't feature a form of competition. It's implied that the way you act during a single moment will categorize your life forever. Creating a character is as simple as flashing back to a pivotal childhood memory, dressing them in stereotypical clothes, or observing some strange habit, like touching a gold pocketwatch before going into work every day.
Life, as we all know, is much more complex. Very rarely do lives boil down to a single moment. And even when someone might be remembered for their actions in that moment, their life probably meant something entirely different to the people who actually knew them.
The way in which we perceive and talk about sports is very similar to the way in which movies perceive and talk about life. When you lose, it's final. The team that won can forever hark back to the victory, and the matchup will never be exactly the same again. How we perceive players might boil down to a single moment. I can guarantee you that every time I mention the name Craig Ehlo, the first thing that comes to your mind is how he failed to defend Michael Jordan on that fateful play.
As such, when we, as Thunder fans, look upon last season, we all see one thing. Russell Westbrook slapping the scorers table, holding his knee after it was injured on a bogus play. A generation from now, that's all that season will be.
But NBA Basketball, as with life, is actually much more complex. There were great moments to be had. Does no one remember the Thunder rallying together and beating the Rockets in Game 6? The buzzer-beating Regular Season victories? The emergence of Reggie Jackson? It's arguable that the season was more triumph than tragedy.
Alas, human memory and perception are things that we can never change. We all perceive the world through our own prisms, and it's near-impossible to change the perception of another.
However, there is one way to erase the memory of Westbrook's injury from the popular consciousness. To regard it as a bump in the road, rather than the downfall of a small market team. To elevate this team's name among those of the greats, and have that single defining moment be the raising of a championship banner.
Win. The journey to this team's defining moment may begin tonight. Let's not forget to enjoy the ride.
ANYWAY, this will be a nice test for the Westbrook-less Thunder. Utah re-loaded by getting rid of the last remnants of the post-Jerry Sloan era, and going with a lineup of almost entirely young players. Those who aren't part of the Jazz's future plan are on minimum contracts or came over in a trade with the Warriors last Summer.
The good news is that the Jazz don't have much of a point guard, either. Trey Burke is certain to be out tonight, leaving their starting spot to the eternal Journeyman known as John Lucas III. Backing him up will be old man Jamaal Tinsley. Basically, Reggie Jackson shouldn't have any problem obtaining open shots.
If you're looking for a reason to fear the Jazz, look no further than their gigantic front line. Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors are two big men who were hyped a lot coming into the NBA. Both of them are potential busts, but they'll get their chance to prove their worth this season. I can imagine them scoring a few points with their back to the basket. Backing them up will be rookie Rudy Gobert, who has a mammoth wingspan. (Not getting to see him go up against Thabeet is a huge shame.)
Also, you can't forget about the presence of Gordon Hayward. Some are saying that this will be his break-out season, as his stats and efficiency have steadily increased over the past three years. He's also considered to be one heck of a defender, especially when working in tandem with Derrick Favors. He was relied upon heavily against Oklahoma City last season, but he never shot above 30% from three.
Despite the above, the Thunder are the clear favorite heading into this matchup. They've never had an answer for Kevin Durant, as evidenced by his over 50% shooting rate in all four games against the Jazz last season. Serge Ibaka did similarly well, and the Thunder were able to get to the line as normal. The only way I could see a Jazz victory is if they really locked down the boards and something else went haywire on the Thunder's end.
The real issue to look at tonight will be Oklahoma City's reserves. Aside from the guaranteed performances of Nick Collison and Derek Fisher, the bench is littered with potential minutes and opportunities for young players that want a chance to shine. Jeremy Lamb is the most obvious possibility, with Steven Adams, Perry Jones, and Andre Roberson looking to grab time as well. Among the youngsters sit Hasheem Thabeet (who's suspended tonight) and Ryan Gomes, who are both looking at what could be the last shot at reviving their careers. In any case, Scott Brooks loves his set rotations and hates experimenting, so we could be looking at the playoff lineup tonight.
How do you think the game will go? Let us know in the poll and comments!