Last time we saw the Jazz, it was an incredibly ugly defense-first affair. The Thunder were able to grind out the first two quarters, but quickly saw their offense halt. Eventually their defense gave way as well, and the Jazz were able to overrun the Thunder in the third quarter with some really basic pick and roll plays. I'm going to cite an old adage and say that the effort simply wasn't there on OKC's end, especially when it came to Reggie Jackson's defense of Dante Exum late in the game.
Today can effectively be seen as a grudge match for that game. The Thunder haven't had much success since seeing the Jazz, only managing to barely lose to the Denver Nuggets, Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors. The defensive effort has certainly improved a bit, but the offense has been equally directionless and lacking in execution. Serge Ibaka's consistency is starting to become a question, as he struggles with low shooting percentages for the first time in his career. Reggie Jackson's decision-making appears to have improved, but he can't make up for the constant offensive failures of Jeremy Lamb, Andre Roberson, and Lance Thomas. Morrow has been serviceable, but he's missed some gimmes that really make you slap your knee in disgust.
Still, this is the perfect game for the Thunder to bounce back with. The Jazz are an opponent the Thunder have already seen, and an opponent that they have two days to prepare for. When you look within the Jazz offensive scheme, you'll realize that it's not all that complicated. In fact, nothing the Jazz do is that complicated. In a recent breakdown of the Jazz defense over at SLC Dunk, Yucca Man states that coach Quin Snyder is focusing on the little things right now, in an attempt to establish good habits down the line. That means there might be some egregious errors in the Jazz offense or defense that simply aren't corrected because winning isn't the priority this season. That's not to say that the Jazz are going to simply roll over if you make adjustments against them, but it does mean that they'll generally play to their talent level.
I also believe that Andre Roberson will be able to have a significant defensive impact on this game. He didn't play in the last game against the Jazz. Roberson's potential opponent, Alec Burks, was able to register 20 points on 62% shooting. That's well over his averages, and certainly impactful in a game where the rest of the starters combined for 43%. Roberson's long arms should do wonders against Burks in the post, as well as deter him from shooting. Andre is getting a real reputation as a defensive stopper after Sunday night's shutdown of Klay Thompson, and he could really solidify that with a similar performance tonight.
If I was to pick one point of emphasis for the Thunder to follow tonight, it'd have to be: Outscore this team if you can. The Jazz are a team that's generally going to beat you in a defensive battle, because they manage the ball really well and can work in half-court sets. But if you speed things up and make it helter-skelter, the Jazz will have a harder time competing. Utah's biggest losses of the year have come to the high-octane Mavs, and they've dropped some bad ones to Houston and Golden State as well. I don't see Brooks violating the sacred four big man rotation here, but I'm hoping the Thunder will start their offensive sets with more haste and intent.
I really could see either team winning tonight, but I've gotta believe that the streak of losing ends here for OKC. The Thunder have endured too many close calls, and have too many solidly performing players to keep going down like this. Roberson's presence finally gives them some flexibility to bench underperforming players, and players like Adams, Thomas, and Telfair are finishing carving out niche roles. Without KD and Westbrook, the Thunder certainly couldn't win a championship. But I'm certain they can consistently beat the Utah Jazz.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 103, Utah Jazz 97.
What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!
|2014-15 NBA Season Game 16|
|November 26th, 2014|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma|
|7:00 PM Central Standard Time|
|TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain Plus|
|Injury Report: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Perry Jones III, Mitch McGary, Grant Jerrett (Out), Rodney Hood (Out)|
|Previous Matchups: Nov 19 (L 81-98)|
|Trey Burke||PG||Reggie Jackson|
|Alec Burks||SG||Andre Roberson|
|Gordon Hayward||SF||Lance Thomas|
|Enes Kanter||PF||Serge Ibaka|
|Derrick Favors||C||Steven Adams|