NBA Preview: Utah Jazz (1-3) face off against the Oklahoma City Thunder (3-1), searching for first road win

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Preseason 2013-2014, Game 5:

Utah Jazz (1-3) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (3-1)

Behind Enemy Lines (MyLo) / Welcome to Loud City (SB Nation Blog) / Thunder vs Jazz coverage

Remember that time Derek Fisher acted selflessly? No? Me neither.

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The Basics:

The Utah Jazz are still trying to figure things out, having made only one cut so far (Dwayne Jones II), and the roster still stands at a billion people. While Ian Clark has not officially made the team yet, for reals, he's trying to keep his spot on the 13 man roster. He's also competing against Dominic McGuire, Mike Harris, Brian Cook, Lester Hudson, Scott Machado, and Justin Holiday for a spot on the 15 man roster. Utah needs to cut 4 guys. Or 5 if they want room to sign a veteran point guard like Jamaal Tinsley. And they need to do it in 11 days. While Oklahoma City doesn't have as many cuts to make (seriously, what team has 19 guys on it at this stage of the game?) they do need to make some decisions as they currently carry 16 guys, and as a team on the cusp of the championship, may want some flexibility to make that one move to get them over the top around the trade deadline if a move is there to be made.

Both teams have some figuring out to do. And both teams are without their starting point guards: All-Star and Olympian Russell Westbrook for the Thunder, and Trey Burke the National College Player of the Year for the Jazz.

This game is somewhat meaningless in the short term. But every piece of information is needed to be able to build the 'best team' you can build. So these 48 minutes tonight will help the Jazz front office make some of their tough decisions, I hope. I had hoped that they would have made cuts a week earlier -- but this team continues to do things I wouldn't do. And that's fine. They are the team that traded for Curtis Borchardt after I was very vocal about not doing it, and the Jazz sure proved me wrong. So, I'm like 1 for a billion on proving a sports franchise wrong. Anyway, moving on . . .

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History:

Do you remember the Seattle Supersonics? I do. They were a good team that played defense and had a few battles in the playoffs against us. Their nickname and city made sense because Boeing is up there in Seattle. The OKC Thunder make little sense, and their logo is a horrible clip art disaster. That all said, the franchise of SEA/OKC has been better than us in head to head competition. All-Time they are winning 91-73. And the Jazz are a pitiful 26-56 as the road team. Last season the Jazz lost 1-3 to OKC in the season series. The year before we also lost 1-2 in the season series. Three seasons ago we ALSO lost 1-3 to OKC. Four seasons ago we ALSO lost 1-3. We have to go back FIVE seasons in time to get to a season when we won the season series, in 2008-2009 the Jazz won the series 3-1. So over the last 5 seasons that's an over-all record of 7-12.

Can you imagine just how much more Jazz they'd be kicking if they didn't over-dip their young players (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, et al.) and kept guys like Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis on the team?

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Scouting, Stats, and Stereotypes:

After four games the Thunder are 1-1 at home, and 2-0 on the road. They are KILLING it in a few areas even without their point guard. They score 105.7 ppg (3rd best in the preseason), and are pulling down 43.6 rebounds a game (6th best). They don't do much on the assists front (bottom third of the NBA) so they are scoring mostly from isolations or from the line. That is interesting is that without Westbrook, an athletic and active point guard, they are still a Top 10 defense in the NBA, allowing only 96.5 ppg. That's a point differential of +9.2 -- which is pretty sizable. Their main man is Kevin Durant who has scored 24, 21, 36, and 25 points for his team in the four games they've played for as. It's not just scoring either, he's also had games of 12 assists (once), 8 rebounds (twice), and 3 blocks (once), for is club. And he's averaging 26.5 ppg while going to the free throw line only 5.75 times a game.

Wow.

For the Jazz, well, we're having some trouble. Utah has lost three games in a row after that surprising, and inspiring victory against the Golden State Warriors. That game is begininng to look increasingly more like a fluke -- or some other word that means fluke. (Schistosoma? Sorry, I studied Biology and Psychology in undergrad, not English.) We're hanging in there at Top 15 in PPG (98.0) opponents PPG (98.1), RPG (42.0), and APG (22.7) -- but already have a negative point differential.

Our big money man, Derrick Favors, is averaging 7.3 ppg, 11.3 rpg, and 2.3 bpg. That's . . . that's not horrible. I'll take it for sure. But I'd be a lot happier with +10.0 ppg. A 17 / 11 / 2 line makes Favors All-NBA material. I think he IS All-NBA material. It would be nice if we had some guards who could feed him.

OKC is built around the unstoppable offense of some great one on one players. Our team is not build that way. Clearly.

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Injury Report:

Thunder Injuries --

  • Russell Westbrook (PG) OUT -- Westbrook will miss the first 4-6 weeks of the season, he recently had his right knee scoped to get rid of swelling.
  • Kendrick Perkins (C) ??? -- Perk did not play against the Pelicans because of a dislocated finger. David Locke reported that Steven Adams will start at center.

Jazz Injuries --

  • Trey Burke (PG) OUT -- Trey just had right index finger surgery yesterday for a fracture. He's going to be out for three to four weeks at the least, according to his Dad. (WHO TOLDED ME THIS ON THE PHONE)
  • Marvin Williams (SF/PF?) OUT -- Marvin is out until the end of December at the earliest rehabing his right Achilles tendon
  • Brandon Rush (SG/SF) OUT -- Brandon is also out until December (who knows if he'll even play?) with left knee rehab
  • Jeremy Evans (PF) and Rudy Gobert (C) ??? -- Both sat out of practice on Friday.

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Advantage --

Perkins is a walking mummy (I don't mean he is a mother, I mean he was embalmed thousands of years ago and his organs removed and preserved in jars), and is of little use to a team trying to win now; unless there's like another creature of legend to fight like the wolfman or Dracula. Westbrook, not my kind of point guard, is still a major talent. Missing him is a big deal, but OKC still has enough talent to make up for it. The Jazz are missing, with the grace of Tyrone Corbin, possible three starters in Burke, Marvin, and Rush. (Don't say it isn't possible) So the Jazz have the disadvantage here for sure.

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The Game:

This game is not on TV, so enjoy, Jazz fans. Also this game is kind of meaningless. I don't care if we lose to OKC on the road, in the preseason, when we have three rotation guys injured. I will care if Clark and Gobert don't get playing time in this one though. If you don't play them during the season because they are inexperienced, and you don't play them during the preseason to give them experience, is your plan to just never play them? This is just like the circular logic a lot of college grads face now when trying to enter the working world -- where you cannot get a job to gain experience because you don't have experience, because you don't have experience because no one will give you a job.

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Player Focus:

Gordon Hayward is the man here. He's our best offensive player right now despite poor shooting. He is a solid and capable defender, and he just saw how much money Favors signed on for.

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X-Factors:

We are going to win or lose this game depending on how well the radio play by play guys describe the action. It's all on them. (Can you tell this is preseason and nothing matters?)

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As an aside:

For a moment back in the day Shawn Kemp was ALMOST better than Karl Malone. Y'all remember that?

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Fearless Prediction:

I'm probably going to make nachos tonight. There will be enough to share.

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