NBA Preview: Utah Jazz host Oklahoma City Thunder in season opener

Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

Game #1 • Energy SolutionsArena • SALT LAKE CITY October 30, 2013 • 7 p.m. (MT) • TV: ROOT Sports; RADIO: 1280 AM/97.5 FM

NBA Regular Season 2013-2014, Game 1:

Oklahoma City Thunder (0-0) @ Utah Jazz (0-0)

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

This. Is. Sparta. Utah!

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The Basics:

Move along...

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History:

OKC used to be SEA back in the day for the newbies out there. 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?

Anyway, today's game is at home, where the Jazz do have the lead in head to head at being 47 up, and 35 down. If the Jazz play well tonight this can be out 48th win at home all time, in the regular season. Let's Go Jazz!

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Scouting, Stats, and Stereotypes:

There are no stats for this season yet, but Kevin Durant is a good scorer, and Serge Ibaka gets blocks. And they're the fun, mass marketed small market team powered by a high scorer forward. They are, effectively, the internet era Utah Jazz if you replaced John Stockton with a shoot first / me first point guard. Would the NBA have paid for a movie like "Thunderstruck" back in the day for Karl Malone? I don't know. But it's just crazy . . . there are Thunder fans all over the world. I wonder if they'll still be there cheering for them 10+ years after KD and Westbrook retire like all of our amazing Jazz fans do, with Stockton and Malone in the history books?

Utah is a foul prone team that is inside out. The Thunder get to the line a lot and take jump shots. Contrasting stiles will clash tonight as one team gets to the line, while the other team actually elicits defensive contact on their offensive possessions. Both teams will be without their "starting" point guards tonight in Russell Westbrook and Trey Burke. So it's going to be up to everyone else to pick up some of the slack.

That means the ball will be in KD's hands more and more, and Richard Jefferson (bereft of having Marvin Williams and Brandon Rush around) will have his hands full. The Jazz need to pound the glass and get second and third chance points. Last season the Thunder were middle of the road in DRB% so that plan could work, but rookie Steven Adams looks to stop that trend.

But Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka alone should not be able to stop Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Rudy Gobert, right? If we want a chance in this game we need to beast them early and often. We can't keep up from the outside unless John Lucas III (who is likely starting tonight) starts off on fire.

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Injury Report:

Thunder Injuries --

  • Russell Westbrook (PG) OUT -- Westbrook will miss tonight's game, and perhaps as little as only 2 more weeks of action. Reggie Jackson will get the start tonight.
  • Hasheem Thabeet (C) OUT -- Hasheem is suspended for one game by the NBA for headbutting Greg Stiemsma during the preseason. Steven Adams is already ahead of him on the depth chart, so NBD.
  • Kendrick Perkins (C) IN -- Perk did not play against the Jazz in the preseason, and Steven Adams started in his place. He old, but he's going to play. It was a finger injury. Perk frowned at it until it got better.

Jazz Injuries --

  • Trey Burke (PG) OUT -- Trey just had right index finger surgery and it went well. He's just down to a splint now from a cast. He's going to be out for a few more weeks at the least. If you are an East African woman . . .
  • 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) OUT -- Evans has a shoulder injury and missed the last couple of preseason games as a result of it. He told Jody Genessy of the Desert News that he is fine and should be playing, but hey, be just be like dat sometimes. (Ask Jamaal Tinsley)
  • Andris Biedrins (C) OUT -- Biedrins is out with a sprained ankle, he is doubtful for the next game as well. But hey, we have Rudy Gobert . . . and . . . that 6'6 small forward dude. So we'll be fine. Really.

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Advantage --

The Thunder are without an Olympian, and their PG line up behind Russ is just Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher. That's not too hot. The Jazz, on the other hand, are going to be without 5 guys in Tyrone Corbin's actual conceptualized playing time rotation. Thabeet being out is no big deal, especially with Perk playing. But,  still, missing your second best player is bad.

But not as bad as the Jazz missing the majority of their wing core when the best player on the other team is a wing player.

Thunder, missing Westbrook, are at the advantage here healthwise. They'll also get more calls even though they are the road team.

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The Game:

It's on ROOT, it's on the radio, and it's also on the Free League Pass preview. If you are a sucker like me, you also pay for league pass, so you should have it already anyway. It's the first game of the season, and the first home game of the season. Win, lose, or draw, I'm just happy to have basketball back!

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Player Focus:

All of the eyes this season are going to be on Gordon Hayward. He's the guy who is in (1 second) of an NBA commercial. He's the guy who did not sign an extension with the Jazz. He's the guy who is going to be our primary ball handler in most sets. He has a tough road ahead of him as the primary focus of the defensive scouting reports this season, but this guy LOVES pressure and embraces challenges. He wanted this, he trained for this, he spent hours and hours getting ready for this. And the Jazz front office are giving him the keys to the car, and will just have to trust in him.

I do.

This is his team, and he's the most complete player on the roster right now. With no Trey Burke, and with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter being play finisher and not really facilitators, it's all going to be on him. (But not in that T-Mac "I'm a career failure" type of way) Gordon didn't kill it with his shooting in the preseason, but he is a few easy buckets a game away from being put in that 20-5-5-2 category. That means G-Time will be turning into G-Money time. But that's for the season. For this game it's going to be up to him to keep our team in it, and have a chance to shock the world.

If he's having a bad game I really can't see us winning despite him. And that's going to be the case for our team tonight, and every night.

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X-Factors:

It's gotta be the home crowd for sure. The Jazz are at home, and I hope the players feel like they are. That depends on what kind of energy the fans bring. I hope they show up on time and are loud. We're going to need that all season long. Beyond the crowd, I think an unstated x-factor has to be how the two teams handle adversity. This may come down to preparation and coaching. Can Tyrone Corbin out coach Scott Brooks? I don't know. But we've played a lot of games this preseason WITHOUT the guys who are going to be injured, so our adjustment to who is actually out there on the floor (and who is not) should come quicker.

Of course, they're just a better team -- hence the need for a solid home crowd. If the Los Angeles Lakers can teach us anything, it's that you still need to play the games, and not just expect a loss when you are the under dog.

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As an aside:

One of my favorite things is the time that Jody got a picture of that OKC fan who has a very positive body self-image, despite being, well, a really husky guy.

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Fearless Prediction:

I'm probably going to be watching this game three times before we play game 2 of the season. (Which is code)

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