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Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Utah Jazz game preview, odds, and prediction

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Can the revamped Thunder take two consecutive from Northwest Division leading Utah?

Thinking about sending Gobert to La La Land
via Bennett Berry

Tonight, winning streaks hang in the balance as the Oklahoma City Thunder host a stifling Utah Jazz collection.

Both Oklahoma City and Utah have bested their last three opponents. And while each teams’ route to success has varied, the results are identical.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that these familiar rivals boast one win apiece in seasonal head-to-head competition.

Overall, though, Utah still wields a three-game standings advantage over OKC. Nonetheless, this evening’s tilt will prove crucial to how the Northwest’s final order unfolds.

And while certain strategies from the Thunder’s recent triumph vs. Utah might be re-employed tonight by Coach Donovan’s new-look iteration, both Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott’s presence will require a slight X and O’s alteration.

Meanwhile, following a bountiful chain of offseason transactions, Utah willfully remained silent at the trade-deadline.

This decision has proven wise as the Jazz have discovered vital cohesion at a time when each contest takes on paramount importance for jockeying playoff contenders.

Not coincidentally, a look at team statistics shows efficient Utah to be encroaching upon elite status. Concurrently, Oklahoma City resides just beneath that rung.

Even so, a Russell Westbrook-led grouping can never be dismissed from a competitive endeavor. Case in point: Westbrook amassed another triple-double (38 pts, 11 rebs, 10 asts, 4 stls) to punctuate OKC’s latest hard-fought 97-95 road victory vs. favored Utah.

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (34-25 #7 west) vs. UTAH JAZZ (37-22 #4 west)

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER KEYS TO VICTORY

  • Andre Roberson must again frustrate All-Star Gordon Hayward: Roberson’s excellent defense vs. Hayward —22.5 ppg— greatly aided OKC’s recent venture against Utah.
  • Limit George Hill from deep: During the Jazz winning streak, Hill has connected on 10-17 3PM while averaging 19.6 ppg.
  • Attack the chest of Rudy Gobert: The “Stifle Tower” is dominating since the break; (15 ppg, 18 rpg, 3.5 bpg, 16-of-21 FTM) therefore, OKC is best served to use waves of physicality to slow the Frenchman ahead of the fourth quarter.
  • Russell Westbrook must deliver: If the Thunder maintain close quarters entering the final stanza, Westbrook’s usual heroics are a likely requisite for victory.
  • Do not become mired in Utah’s plodding pace: The Jazz (93.59) use the fewest possessions per contest among NBA teams.

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

Since acquiring an outside shooter (Doug McDermott) and experienced low-post banger (Taj Gibson) OKC’s stock has risen. Additionally, an extra spark resides in the Thunder offense pursuant to Alex Abrines’ sudden emergence as replacement starter.

Due to Abrines’ floor-spacing prowess (8-18 3PM as starter) considerable real estate for Russell Westbrook is opening. Although, against the stingy all-around defense of Utah, Oklahoma City may struggle to find quality outside looks.

Meanwhile, Gibson and McDermott’s minutes have been meted strategically by Coach Donovan. Tonight may present the perfect occasion for OKC’s newest contributors to immerse themselves in the deep end.

Finally, the Thunder would remain well served if Andre Roberson’s hot shooting (12-13 FGM) continues.

UTAH JAZZ

Quinn Snyder’s troops continue a focused march toward playoff status. In the Jazz’ last outing, Gordon Hayward’s 30-point eruption led a balanced opening-five performance from Utah vs. Washington.

Each of the Jazz’ starters recorded at least ten points. Though more telling was the manner in which Utah manhandled Washington along the boards (52-27 advantage), and stifled their post productivity (held Wash. starting frontline to 9-29 FGM, 19 PTS).

Jazz-stoppers George Hill, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert present an imposing defensive triad. In addition to a spirited Westbrook effort, tonight Oklahoma City would do well to establish proper floor-spacing.

PROJECTED STARTING LINUEUPS/INJURY REPORTS

The Oklahoma City Thunder list Victor Oladipo (Back) as questionable for tonight’s contest. The Utah Jazz have no injuries to report.

Oklahoma City Thunder:

  • Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
  • Shooting Guard: Alex Abrines/Victor Oladipo
  • Small Forward: Andre Roberson
  • Power Forward: Domantas Sabonis
  • Center: Steven Adams

Utah Jazz:

  • Point Guard: George Hill
  • Shooting Guard: Rodney Hood
  • Small Forward: Gordon Hayward
  • Power Forward: Derrick Favors
  • Center: Rudy Gobert

ODDS

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: Push

The Vegas cognoscenti have tonight’s matchup listed as a “pick-em affair.” Meaning, this contest is too close to call. Personally, I’m always wary of what Utah brings to the table.

A strong case for the Jazz fielding two All-Stars in this year’s contest could be made — with George Hill’s name becoming an honorable mention.

Tonight’s key matchup pits Andre Roberson against Gordon Hayward. As alluded to during the “Keys to Victory,” Roberson stymied the offensively-versatile Hayward to just 6-of-17 shooting as OKC eked a two-point win in Utah.

The Utah Jazz rank 3rd (101.5) in DefRtg while occupying a respectable #12 spot in OffRtg (107.3).

Conversely, Oklahoma City is the NBA’s eighth-best defensive unit (104.8 DefRtg) and 20th-ranked offensive group (104.2).

Oklahoma City enters tonight’s divisional showcase with a quality 22-8 home record. Utah sports a healthy 17-11 road mark.

Following Oklahoma City’s third meeting of the season with Utah, the Thunder embark upon a three-game road trip.