|2013-2014 NBA Season|
|January 7th, 2014|
|EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah|
|8:00 PM CST|
|TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Root Sports Rocky Mountain Plus|
|Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), The Zone Sports Network (97.5 FM/1280 AM)|
|Injury Report: Russell Westbrook (Out)|
|Previous Matchups: Oct 30th, Nov 24th (Thunder Lead Season Series 2-0)|
|Reggie Jackson||PG||Trey Burke|
|Thabo Sefolosha||SG||Gordon Hayward|
|Kevin Durant||SF||Richard Jefferson|
|Serge Ibaka||PF||Marvin Williams|
|Kendrick Perkins||C||Derrick Favors|
|2013/14 Advanced Stats|
|98.9 (5th)||Pace||93.6 (27th)|
|107.1 (5th)||ORtg||98.1 (26th)|
|97.8 (T-7th)||DRtg||107.8 (30th)|
I doubt many people had this date circled on their calendar as a potentially good game. The Thunder saw the Jazz during the early season, and it didn't look like the team had much pep in their step. Their star draft pick, Trey Burke, was sidelined before Utah even saw the floor. That, combined with a bunch of other injuries and nonperforming youngsters, conspired to throw the Jazz into complete disarray. They bottomed out at 1-13 after a complete blowout at the hands of the Thunder, but quickly recovered to go 3-1 over their next four games.
Since, the Jazz have turned out to be something like a .500 team. They're liable to get crushed now and again by superior opponents like the Pacers, Spurs, and Heat. But they've seen the other side of the coin as well, staging a victory against the Rockets and some considerably comfortable parades against the Kings and Nuggets.
Which team will show up? Well, generally speaking, the Jazz aren't very offensively potent. They tend to fare better when the game turns into a slugfest, and can only break 100 when an individual player plays out of his shoes or the team gets ridiculously hot from three. In other words, if the Thunder had Russell Westbrook, they would be virtually guaranteed a victory tonight. But with how the Thunder have had epic offensive collapses against the Bobcats, Nets, and Trail Blazers, a Jazz victory isn't inconceivable.
Where do I see the Jazz potentially making an impact? Without a doubt, the onus is on Trey Burke. If he can continue his recent run of offensive success while simultaneously shutting down Reggie Jackson, the Jazz will compete until the final minutes. Kemba Walker, Damian Lillard, and Deron Williams all accomplished this feat in the immediate post-Westbrook decline, but Jackson had his best game in two weeks against the Celtics on Sunday. In particular, Jackson will have to remember to push the pace while remembering to avoid rushed shot attempts when the team is in a half-court set.
Another interesting storyline tonight will be that of Thabo Sefolosha. He's had a tough go of it over the past couple weeks, and has shot 4-17 from beyond the arc over the past five games. Additionally, his overall shooting percentages are far from impressive, and his PPG has steadily decline. Today's game is far from do or die for him, but he has seen steadily decreasing minutes. With his contract not likely to be renewed at the end of the year and the recent Ryan Gomes deal freeing up some cap room, his name may be on the trade block. I'm mentioning this now because Thabo has had success against Utah in the past, going for 14 points in the season opener and filling the stat sheet on Nov 24th. If there's any time for him to get out of his funk, it's now.
By the way, the aforementioned Ryan Gomes deal leaves the Thunder with 13 players on their roster, the NBA minimum. With Westbrook's injury, that leaves them with 12 active players. 10 of them are currently in the active rotation, with Andre Roberson only grabbing spot minutes and Hasheem Thabeet only seeing the floor in cases of extreme emergency.
In any case, tonight's game will likely end in a Thunder victory. Despite the potential of Trey Burke shutting down Reggie Jackson, the Thunder have beaten this Jazz team without Westbrook twice. The Jazz have certainly improved since those victories, but the Thunder have also gotten better at playing without Russ. If that makes any sense.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 108, Utah Jazz 95.
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