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Rattled Thunder take on improving young Jazz

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Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors are playing at All-Star levels, and the Utah roster is stocked with prospects. Can the Thunder grit their way through such talent?

Jazz Hands!
Jazz Hands!
William Bennett Berry
2014-15 NBA Season Game 12
(Lost 2)

(Lost 1)
November 18th, 2014
EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah
8:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain Plus
Injury Report: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Perry Jones III, Mitch McGaryAndre RobersonGrant Jerrett (Out), Rodney Hood (Out)
Previous Matchups: Oct 30 (W, 101-98), Nov 24 (W, 95-73), Jan 7 (L, 101-112), Mar 30 (W 116-96)
Probable Starters
Reggie Jackson PG Trey Burke
Jeremy Lamb SG Alec Burks
Lance Thomas SF Gordon Hayward
Serge Ibaka PF Enes Kanter
Steven Adams C Derrick Favors

So, the word out of Utah is that the Jazz have not one, but TWO All-Stars on their roster this year. That statement might be a little brash, but there are legitimate cases to be made for both men. The first case is that of Gordon Hayward. AllThatAmar wrote a breakdown of his game over at SLC Dunk that I could never hope to replicate. In a nutshell though, Hayward is an expanded three and D player. Hayward's fundamental defense and robotic three point shooting are good enough to get him that role, but he provides tons more. Gordon works really well off the high post pick and roll, has decent court vision, rebounds well for his position, and has a great nose for the ball on the defensive perimeter.

Of course, we all knew that Hayward was good, to some extent. But he hasn't been this consistently reliable up to this point, nor has he played on this level. But what's really solidified Hayward's game in the eyes of the public is his clutch time performance. The November 5th buzzer beater against LeBron's Cavaliers was the most visible example, but you also can't ignore Hayward's several crunch time buckets against the Knicks on November 14th.

Who's Utah's other star? Well, according to YuccaMan of SLC Dunk, Derrick Favors is playing at an All-Star level as well. As of Monday, Derrick was apparently only matched by Dwight Howard in terms of scoring, rebounding, shot blocking, and scoring efficiency. When you actually watch Favors' game, it's easy to see why he's been so lauded. Favors is really adept at running the pick and roll and establishing post position early. Moreover, he's very skilles at holding the ball and finishing amongst traffic. He even has a really mean post up game, though I'm not ready to put it on the level of someone like a DeMarcus Cousins.

The third and fourth pieces of the Utah Jazz's puzzle are Alec Burks and Enes Kanter, respectively. Burks is a wing player like Hayward, but only rarely works in the same pick and roll type sets. More often, you'll see Burks coming off of a screen on the baseline or given an iso on the wing. Also, Burks is more inside-focused, and is known as an elite dunker. Kanter, on the other hand, is 6'11" and loves to take the jumper. He's going to take any open shot he'll get in the mid-range, and will occasionally fire from three as well. Kanter will even get into the post sometimes, but not nearly as much as Favors.

The rest of the Jazz rotation consists of one role player (Trevor Booker) and four wacky projects that will have extreme highs and lows from game to game. This is why the Jazz can be so unreliable, but it's also why the Jazz can be so fun to watch. Dante Exum is long, athletic guard with tons of potential and a mean floater. Rudy Gobert has the longest arms ever. Trey Burke will take a lot of crazy bad shots, but has also made some spectacular ones as well. Lastly, Joe Ingles is a two guard who takes a lot of threes and can make some decent passes out of the pick and roll.

What can we expect from the Jazz? Well, they're a very good half-court basketball team. They play some really big players at power forward and center most of the time, so they're only going to run out steals or really long rebounds. The half-court attack of the Jazz will consists of pick and rolls in the high post, pick and pops in the high post, wing isos for Hayward and Burks, post ups for favors, and lots of shooters rolling from off-ball screens. The ball doesn't go on the floor for the Jazz unless they're penetrating, which has led them to relatively good care of the ball.

How will the Thunder fare against the Jazz' attack? I'm betting that Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors will be contained. Hayward's three will be nasty for sure, but Lance Thomas has proven himself capable of containing any wing player within the paint. Furthermore, Howard was extremely limited against OKC's brutal front line on Sunday, so I'm not expecting Favors to do any better. On the other hand, I'm expecting Alec Burks and Enes Kanter to have career nights. Burks will be operating against Lamb, who is notorious for playing his defender too close and giving up silly fouls. I can see Burks waltzing right past him to the free throw line on several occasions. Kanter will undoubtedly be able to get open against Ibaka, who will be concerned with the paint. As long as Kanter's shot is true, he should be a positive for Utah.

Does that mean a win for the Jazz? Not necessarily. I'm expecting Reggie Jackson to have a similarly positive impact on his team, as he'll be matched up against the undersized Trey Burke. Ibaka should be able to nix Kanter's advantage with his open shots. Beyond those two, nothing is guaranteed. But if a random Thunder role player can step up and find a defensive hole that allows him a few too many points, winning is definitely within reach. We're all looking at Lamb and Morrow, who's shots have been suspect as of late. But really, it could be anyone that gets minutes. We've failed to break 90 in 7 of 11 games this season, so I'm pretty sure things are at that point.

Prediction: Utah Jazz 96, Oklahoma City Thunder 88.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!