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Enes Kanter to help Thunder against rival Jazz

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Durant's status remains a mystery.

Serious sax.
Serious sax.
William Bennett Berry

The Jazz are treading water this season

The Utah Jazz are 6-6, and faced some really rough scheduling out of the gate. Jazz fans can hang their hat on signature wins against the Hawks, Raptors, and Grizzlies. But losses to ho-hum teams like the Magic, Heat, and Blazers make you wonder if the Jazz are all that. Utah's style is certainly unique, as the Jazz play at the league's second slowest pace and with the league's second highest defensive rating.

Third year coach Quin Snyder can be looked to as the reason for Utah's tough play. If you want some examples of how Snyder really gets into his players, look no further than past Thunder-Jazz games. During the pre-season this year, a Thunder victory launched Snyder into a 2.5 minute rant. Last season, 3.5 scoreless minutes sent Snyder into a rage, as he screamed at his players to wake up.

The Jazz are led by Derrick Favors this season. Favors is by far the team's most efficient double-digit scorer, shooting 54% from the floor. Defense is Favors specialty, though, as he averages 1.9 steals a game and 1.4 blocks per game. There are four more players on Utah's roster averaging double digit points per game, all of them guards. Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, and Alec Burks score from the wings, while Trey Burke scores as a ballhandling point guard. You'll see a lot of the Jazz moving the ball from side to side and setting off-ball screens for their wings. The last big presence for Utah is Rudy Gobert, whom is averaging 3 blocks and 11 rebounds per game in the post. These six players have pretty consistently been Utah's backbone so far, with regular cameo appearances from Trevor Booker, Raul Neto, and Joe Ingles.

Thunder-Jazz History

When the Thunder saw the Jazz in the pre-season, the Jazz guards had no trouble scoring against the Thunder. OKC's perimeter defense was fine, but those Jazz guards were doing their damage inside the arc. Hood did his work in the paint, Burke and Hayward shot around screens, and Burks exploited mismatches. Perhaps most interestingly, the Thunder managed to shut down Derrick Favors on offense. Serge Ibaka deserves a ton of credit for this, as well as handling a number of mismatches during that game.

Russell Westbrook loved being matched up with the smaller Raul Neto and Trey Burke. It was easy for Westbrook to cruise his way to a triple double, attacking the paint all the while. Anthony Morrow and Dion Waiters had solid performances off the bench.

Enes Kanter didn't play against the Jazz during the pre-season, but will be making an appearance tonight. Last season, Kanter was traded from the Jazz to the Thunder. When the Thunder traveled to Utah with Kanter, Enes was not very receptive to the media. As a result, Utah fans gave Kanter a smattering of boos, and former teammates had negative things to say. Kanter handled the whole thing by egging the fans on during introductions, and playing visibly frustrated throughout. I'd expect a similar response from Utah's fans tonight, though there's no telling what Enes Kanter might do. Kanter should have opportunities to score though, with Utah not having a strong paint presence off the bench.

Will KD Play?

We don't know yet, though it was surmised that Durant could potentially return tonight. Durant was officially listed as questionable before Sunday's game against the Mavericks, but the Thunder ruled him out that afternoon. If Durant were to play, he'd probably be coming back at close to 100%. During the pre-season, Durant basically carried the Thunder to victory with 29 points. 10 of those points came during a critical 2.5 minute stretch of the fourth quarter. Furthermore, the shots were evenly distributed throughout the floor. The Jazz may be a defensively sound team, but they have no one that can even begin to match up with Durant defensively.

OKC is looking strong, but there's work to be done

Unlike the Jazz, the Thunder will be on the second end of a back to back tonight. Last night, a time zone away in Oklahoma City, the Thunder beat the Mavericks, 117-114. It was OKC's most emotional win of the season, and certainly their best win without KD. Russell Westbrook did his usual thing of leading the team in scoring, but had over 11 assists as well. Really, it was a game where you felt like Westbrook bought into the team mentality and it paid off.

In general, the Mavericks game was a microcosm of what the Thunder are good at and aren't good at without KD. On the positive side, the Thunder grab lots of offensive rebounds and force lots of turnovers. This means OKC usually has more possessions than their opponent.

But on the negative side, the Thunder's offense is mediocre. The Thunder can get stuck in hero ball mode sometimes, as their star players take possessions and ignore their teammates. But OKC has a lot of one-way players as well, and it's hard for those players (Adams, Collison, Roberson) to score from night to night. Furthermore, the Thunder can't defend the three point line to save their lives. Even in victory last night, the Thunder allowed the Mavericks to shoot 53% from three.

Clearly, Coach Donovan is doing all he can to keep things interesting in terms of the lineups. Cameron Payne, whom hadn't seen the floor in two games, got some burn during the second quarter last night with mixed success. It came at the expense of Kyle Singler. Singler had just played 10 or more minutes in seven straight games, but saw his minutes reduced to three against Dallas. Anthony Morrow continued to rise in favor, seeing 20+ minutes for the fourth time in six games. The rest of the rotation has been more or less consistent since Durant's injury.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 99, Utah Jazz 98.

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

2015-16 NBA Season Game 15
(Won 1)

(Lost 1)
November 23rd, 2015
EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah
8 PM Central Daylight Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain
Injury Report: Dante Exum (Out), Kevin Durant (Questionable)
Last Season's Matchups: Nov 19 (L 81-98), Nov 26 (W 97-82), Jan 9 (W 99-94), Mar 28 (L 89-94). Pre-Season: Oct 20 (W 113-102)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Raul Neto
Anthony Morrow SG Gordon Hayward
Andre Roberson SF Rodney Hood
Serge Ibaka PF Derrick Favors
Steven Adams C Rudy Gobert