Tonight the Utah Jazz will play their first game after a somewhat okay 2-3 Eastern Conference road trip. The convention is that the first home game after a road trip is like another game on the road. I don't know how true that is as the Jazz flew back from Toronto right after the game, and had two straight nights of sleeping in their own bed. But the game will tell us more than any heartland wisdom or adage will. Their opponent tonight will be the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that hasn't looked that good at home or the road. And there's a big reason for that, as this Thunder team will be playing yet another game without Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Perry Jones III, Andre Roberson, rookies Grant Jerrett, and Mitch McGary.
Being bereft of the services of two Gold medal-level players would be like, say, the '93 Jazz trying to do things without John Stockton and Karl Malone. That team wouldn't have looked that good. And in reality, this OKC team is playing just about as well as they possibly can -- it's just not championship level ball.
In their last five games they have defeated the Sacramento Kings and Boston Celtics (on the road), while dropping contests to the Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons, and Houston Rockets. Tonight will be the first of a back to back on the road @ Utah, and then @ Denver. And at this point in the season, we're the better team than our cross mountain cousins. It would be nice if we played like it. I'm obviously worried because the last time the Jazz played a team this hurt was when they played -- and got housed -- by the Indiana Pacers. It's not going good for your team when you make Roy Hibbert look like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Hopefully tonight the Jazz don't make Serge Ibaka look like Shawn Kemp.
For the season Scott Brooks' team is only 3-8, and they are awful everywhere except on defense, where they are a Top 10 team by Def RTG (103.1), and Top 6 by Opp. PPG (giving up only 94.0). OKC doesn't foul, and they defending shots well. They're not great on their defensive glass and don't cause a lot of turn overs, which is fine by me. The Jazz are more than willing to throw the ball away without any defensive pressure. But it's their offense that really is the sound of doves crying. Without star players Brooks' offense looks as creative and efficient as Tyrone Corbin's offense.
I'm not going to dwell on it. Why? Well, with fewer than 25 games this year, and none with KD, it's obvious things are going to look bad. But our own history tells me that we can get teams to buck their trends and win games they shouldn't, on paper. I'm fixated on that Indy game because it was the outlier on that East road trip. I hope Quin Snyder and his coaches are as well.
Don't let that effort happen again. Don't let that effort happen on our home floor.
It's gotta be Reggie Jackson against Trey Burke. Trey looks fine against non-starter level competition. Reggie, in place of Westbrook, wants to prove to the world that he's starter level talent. Right now Jackson is averaging 21.5 ppg (17.1 FGA, .431 FG%, .283 3PT%, .854 FT%), 7.6 apg (3.6 TOPG), 4.9 rpg, and 0.8 spg. He's getting a TON (a METRIC TONNE EVEN!) of assists, and is the best thing going on for the Thunder on offense.
By direct comparison Trey Burke, a big game player, is only averaging 9.9 ppg (shooting is, poor), 5.4 apg, 2.4 rpg, and 1.2 spg.
The difference between the two (beyond someone taking 7+ more shots a game) is going to be defense. And as a result, Jackson should be a good litmus test for our Trey.
- Kevin Durant (OKC) -- he's out with a right foot fracture
- Russell Westbrook (OKC) -- he's out with a second metacarpal fracture
- Perry Jones (OKC) -- he's out with a right knee contusion
- Andre Roberson (OKC) -- he's out with a left foot sprain
- Grant Jerrett (OKC) -- he's out with a left ankle injury
- Mitch McGary (OKC) -- he's out with a left foot fracture
- Rodney Hood (UTA) -- he's out with a right foot injury (plantar fasciitis)
Obviously OKC is missing more guys, but stop me if I'm repeating myself here, UTA has found a way to lose to a team so out gunned before.
Thing to watch out for:
If the Jazz are running their offense, it will stretch and strain OKC. If OKC can control the pace of play each possession is worth more and their defense can dig in a little deeper.
Thunder or Jazz:
Thunder is nice, nature is nice, but Jazz is really music to my ears.