Game: Oklahoma City Thunder @ Utah Jazz
Time: 8PM CST
Location: Vivint Smart Home Arena
Fresh off a relatively easy victory over the Jazz two weeks ago, the Thunder face their playoff foes from last season for the second time tonight - this time in Utah.
Here are three things to watch as the rivals battle again:
1. Spider in a slump
After an incredible rookie season that saw him blossom into a franchise scorer who was able to carry the Jazz’s offense, Donovan Mitchell has struggled mightily this season- 40% from the field, under 30% from 3 point range. He has been even worse in the 5 most recent games. If Mitchell is out of rhythm it becomes tough — though not impossible — for the Jazz to win, which is why they find themselves below .500 at 16-17 and outside the playoff picture. The Thunder know better than any team in the league what Mitchell can do when he’s clicking. But if his slump continues through tonight, the Jazz will be hard pressed to find offense they need against OKC’s dynamic defense.
That said, the Jazz knocked off the finally-healthy Warriors earlier this week where Mitchell shot 5-26, and embarrassed the Trail Blazers in a game where Mitchell shot 1-10. While they need Mitchell performing well long-term, Utah is finding ways to win, and doing it against playoff teams.
2. The backup backcourt
In the Thunder’s destruction of Kings 3 days ago, Alex abrines got up seven 3 point attempts and hit 3 of them. That may not seem like something to write home about, but it was more attempts than Abrines usually sees, and he hit a decent percentage of them. Possible reason? Dennis Schroder was suspended.
Schroder has been a net positive for OKC this season, keeping the offense alive when Russ heads to the bench. But he has an unfortunate habit of either looking off Abrines when he’s open, or just not seeing him at all. Per NBA.com, Abrines gets up nearly 10 3-pointers per 36 minutes when Schroder is not on the floor, compared to only six when Schroder is.
Abrines has struggled this season, but the only way for him to break out of his slump is to keep getting shots up and in spots where he hits consistently, instead of Alex having to hunt for shots on his own. Schroder needs to make a more concerted effort to find him, and trust Abrines to break out of his slump.
By the time the Thunder tip off, we’ll know the outcome of the Clippers-Nuggets game. If the Nuggets lose that game and OKC wins, the Thunder will move into a tie for first place in the west at 21-10.
The Thunder, Nuggets and Warriors are starting to pull away from the rest of the conference ever so slightly, although with one bad week any of those teams could find themselves back in 4th or 5th place. The Jazz, meanwhile, are currently 12th in the conference, but only 2 games out of the playoffs. The Thunder need this win to keep themselves at the top of the standings, while the Jazz need it to try and vault themselves back into the playoff picture.
Only one of these teams will get what they’re after.
Who do you think will win tonight?
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