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Preview - Utah Jazz @ Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder at this point pretty much have the Northwestern Division title wrapped up.  They're four games up on Denver and five games up on Portland with just about eleven games remaining.   They haven't clinched a playoff spot just yet technically, but they're a shoe-in.

Right now they stand fourth in the conference with a low chance of moving up or down.  They're 3 1/2 games back of the Mavericks for third and four games up on Denver.  They'll be hosting a first-round series at home.  Their opponent will likely be Portland or Denver though New Orleans or Mephis has a chance to still get that fifth spot.

So what will they be playing for tonight?  One, I think Durant will have an eternal desire to beat the Jazz given the foul call he thought he should have received a couple of seasons ago in that great OT game.    Second, as a NW division rival, they'll always have a little something more to give, even though the Jazz pose no threat to them in the standings.  Finally, they'll be fine-tuning their playoff rotations and working in Kendrick Perkins some more.

So what are the Jazz playing for?  Well, despite the article posted from Brian T. Smith about the the discord in the locker room after the loss to the Grizzlies, today he's been tweeting that the players are still focused on making the playoffs and making a run.  I don't doubt that they're going to fight to the end but I also wonder what else they're going to say in that situation.  They may be giving it up on defense, and struggling on offense the past couple of games, but you can tell that they're giving it their all.  I expect they'll do that to the end.

After the Jazz blew out the Thunder to start the season, OKC has won two straight and could take the season series tonight.  In the previous two losses, the Jazz have given up 121 & 115 points on the way to getting blown out.  Both of those losses came in Utah.

Durant and Russel Westbrook have lit up the Jazz in those two games.  And despite the Thunder ranked just 19th in the league in three-point shooting percentage, OKC was 19/36 (53%) from the arc in those games.  If those are falling, it's over.  Because in addition to that, they lead the league in made free-throws and free-throw percentage.  With the two most efficient shots in basketball are dropping, you better be matching them on the other end.

That's what the Jazz are going to have to do.  They're going to have to limit their turnovers and shoot the ball well in addition to getting to the line.  Given their defensive slide since the beginning of the year, they're not going to stop the ball tonight.  

The two players to focus on as always are Durant and Westbrook.  They account for 44% of the team's field goal attempts.  A distant third was Jeff Green and now he's gone in the Perkins trade.  If one of them can have an off night, the Jazz will have a chance to steal one.