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Preview: Thunder vs Jazz, Oklahoma City looks to get back on track against Utah

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The Thunder have lost 3 out of their last 5 games and are tumbling. What do they need to do to get back on track?

And The One will rise out of the fire and smoke, riding a unicorn, like a pissed off Phoenix...
And The One will rise out of the fire and smoke, riding a unicorn, like a pissed off Phoenix...
W. Bennett Berry

The last visit the Utah Jazz paid to Oklahoma City, the Thunder were 3-12 and on a 6 game losing streak. The local and national media was panicking over whether the Thunder would make the playoffs, even with the impending return of Russell Westbrook, and later Kevin Durant. It was a low point for Thunder fans. The team responded with a near-perfect game, winning 97-82 in a game that wasn’t that close. Headlining the win was the bench, scoring 44 points. Jeremy Lamb had one of the best games of his career, scoring 21 points on 7-8 shooting.

This time around, the Thunder are down again. Still 2 games below .500 and 4 games back of the Phoenix Suns for the 8th seed in the playoffs was not how this season was pictured to go. A California road trip resulted in 2 blowout losses by a combined 47 points and shooting a combined 32% from the field. It’s been especially ugly for Russell Westbrook, scoring 32 points on the road trip on 8-40 shooting. Not exactly setting the nets on fire.

The Jazz are a 13-23 team but they've played well of late, beating Chicago 97-77 their last time out. Utah is a very balanced team, mediocre in all major statistical categories, but they have 5 players averaging double figures. If the Thunder want to win this game, they’ll have to hold their own on the boards and contain Gordon Hayward. The first game OKC played against the Jazz wasn’t pretty. Utah won by 17 and the key to the game was that Utah outrebounded the Thunder by 11, including 15 from Enes Kanter and 14 from Alec Burks. The second time out, in the Thunder’s win, OKC out-rebounded Utah by 8 and the Jazz didn't have a player in double figures rebounding.

If the Thunder don’t simply settle for jump shots all game and get out on the break, this could be a convincing Thunder win. The talent comparison in this game isn't close. However, Utah tends to play together, a characteristic that does not define OKC these days. If the Thunder play together, they win. If not, they might finish this week with an 0-3 record.

A final key aspect of this game is that Utah will be without Alec Burks, who had surgery on January 1st and is out for the season. Joe Ingles will start at Small Forward and Gordon Hayward will play Shooting Guard.

I’m predicting a Thunder win in this game. How often does OKC lose 3 in a row with good health?

Prediction: Oklahoma City 107 Utah 85

2014-15 NBA Season Game 37
@
13-23
(Won 1)

17-19
(Lost 2)
January 9th, 2015
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
7:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain Plus
Injury Report: Enes Kanter (Doubtful), Mitch McGary, Rodney Hood, Alec Burks, Carrick Felix (Out)
This Year's Matchups (1-1): Nov 19 (L 81-98), Nov. 26 (W 97-82)
Probable Starters
Trey Burke PG Russell Westbrook
Gordon Hayward SG Andre Roberson
Joe Ingles SF Kevin Durant
Derrick Favors PF Serge Ibaka
Rudy Gobert C Steven Adams