The Oklahoma City Thunder are on the heels of an absolute thrashing at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, and the dire news that Kevin Durant will be out for the rest of the season. It's fortunate, then, that the Thunder run into the Utah Jazz tonight. The Jazz have already been eliminated from the playoffs, and are in the midst of a four game losing streak.
Enes Kanter will be the big story tonight, as he will see heavy minutes against his former team. Kanter didn't have a very memorable stint in Utah, mostly toiling for losing teams while developing his game. The Jazz didn't see Kanter as a huge asset moving forward, as Kanter was traded for the expiring contract of Kendrick Perkins. Since joining OKC, though, Kanter's numbers have gone up and his value has improved. A recent article by All that Amar showcases Kanter next to other departed Jazz players from this season. Just in case you were wondering, there is no comparison.
Still, the Jazz decision to ship Kanter out of Utah may have had to do with more than just his performance on the court. Kanter was not happy in Utah, and came out at today's shootaround with some seriously callous words for his former organization. Here's a collection of what Kanter had to say, transcribed from the Twitter of Tony Parks (@TonyParksZone):
- "I never liked playing basketball before & this is the first time that I liked playing bball for my tm, the fans, the coaches etc"
- "It wasn't just one gm or 2gm frustration w/Jazz it was a 3.5 yr frustration. I'm happy that I am part of OKC team....a winner tm."
- "It wasn't just basketball stuff that frustrated me about Utah. It was professionalism."
- Enes, "I don't want to talk about it here again cause I have a lot of things to say, but I don't want to say right now."
- Enes, "Everything was frustrating in 3.5 yrs. When I arrived to OKC, it was like a dream that you don't want to wake up from."
- "When I arrived to OKC, I realized that this is how NBA teams are. OKC has been like a dream that you don't want to wake up from."
How will Kanter stack up? Hard to say. Kanter's opponent, Derrick Favors, has never gone against Kanter head to head. Both of them were major parts of a big man core in Utah that liked to focus on scoring and rebounding. Thus, I'd expect both Kanter and Favors to do a lot of both against each other. Snyder will run tons of pick and roll, so expect for Favors/Gobert to run from the high to the low post a lot, as well as pop out for jumpers. Kanter will score because Westbrook gives him space, as usual.
The big question on everyone's mind tonight: Can the Thunder play defense in their current state? The answer is pretty much a solid no. The starters can play passable defense, but the lineup is so poorly tooled that it's easy to find holes. By the time the bench comes out, you've got players that actively make bad decisions (Mitch McGary, Perry Jones III) combined with players who are physically underwhelming for their positions (Anthony Morrow, D.J. Augustin). The whole thing is just a crapshoot, and it will be a miracle if we can keep the Jazz to under 45% from the floor.
Perhaps the most worrying thing is that OKC's two wins against Utah this season were predicated on the Thunder's ability to force turnovers. The majority of the players who were useful at forcing those turnovers are now injured or on other teams. Worse still, the one Thunder loss to Utah this season was actually the only game out of the three where OKC won the rebounding battle. And Scott Brooks is starting two centers....
Really though, this game is very winnable. The biggest priority for OKC will have to be taking care of the ball and getting good shots. Utah runs the league's slowest pace at just 92.4 possessions per game, and the Jazz try to make every single one of them count. Thus, if OKC kicks things off with a few quick turnovers and get themselves in a hole, it could take all game to climb back out. Utah is generally very steady with the score, and can keep things annoyingly interesting for a very long time.
Still, this is OKC's game to lose. Utah has nobody to effectively cross-match Westbrook, and their team is very young. As long as Kanter and Waiters can step up and fill a reasonable scoring load, there's no way the Jazz could outscore the Thunder straight up. At least, on most nights.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 99, Utah Jazz 98.
What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!
|2014-15 NBA Season Game 73|
|March 28th, 2015|
|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, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Andre Roberson, Rodney Hood, Alec Burks, Carrick Felix (Out) Dante Exum, Derrick Favors (Questionable)|
|This Season's Matchups: Nov 19 (L 81-98), Nov 26 (W 97-82), Jan 9 (W 99-94)|
|Russell Westbrook||PG||Dante Exum|
|Dion Waiters||SG||Joe Ingles|
|Kyle Singler||SF||Gordon Hayward|
|Enes Kanter||PF||Derrick Favors|
|Steven Adams||C||Dante Exum|
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