Tonight, the last night before Thanksgiving, the Utah Jazz will try to improve on their 2-6 road record by playing the ailing Oklahoma City Thunder. Both teams are at the bottom end of the Western Conference spectrum, and together have fewer than 10 wins total. I'd like to tell you that these are two teams going in opposite directions, but realistically right now both teams are on the plot-able path of a drunk house fly trying to navigate the labyrinth of vertical blinds. The Thunder are close to winning most of the games they've recently played, but have lost six straight games -- one of them, their worst beating, to the same Jazz they'll host tonight. The Jazz aren't much better, having lost three in a row, but they've had a more linear progression forward.
OKC needs to tread water until their stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, return. They aren't really doing that, though, as the month is almost up and they are last in both the division, but also the conference, and second worst in the entire NBA right now. Still, Las Vegas suggests that the Jazz are the underdogs for tonight. I kind of get some of that, the Jazz are 26-58 all-time on the road against the Seattle Supersonics and the Oklahoma City Thunder. And, well, generally our guys don't pull out road wins. Ever. There were only about three different Jazz teams in 40+ years who were solid outside of their home court.
There's no real way to judge what's going to happen tonight, but I think looking at the last game these two played is a start. That game was 8 nights ago and resulted in a 98-81 win, after being down by 17 at one point. Alec Burks had a 20/14 game, and Enes Kanter had 16/15. The Jazz dominated the paint, and were up +16 in points and +9 in rebounds there.
Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb started that night, and only one of them had a good game. And it wasn't Reggie. Tonight the Thunder will look to start Reggie Jackson, Andre Roberson, Lance Thomas, Serge Ibaka, and Steven Adams. They are still ridiculously injured with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Perry Jones, Grant Jerrett, and Mitch McGary all out. (Heck, one of then -- Grant -- is also currently assigned to the NBA-DL) Two of those guys are rookies, one of them is a fringe NBA player at this stage -- so it's quantity more than quality. (You know, when you look beyond two Top 30 NBA players being out at the same time.)
The Jazz bigs (Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Rudy Gobert, and Trevor Booker) should dominate once again tonight in the paint. However let's not be too quick to discount these guys. OKC has lost five of the six games on this losing streak by a combined 25 points, or losing by 5 points a game on average if you discount the manhandling they faced by the Jazz.
For the season the Thunder have the 29th best ranked offense by OFF RTG, and 30th by actual per game production (89.6 ppg). They have the 10th best defense though (by DEF RTG), and play at a slow enough pace (27th) to keep the other team from putting up too many points on them. They do have flaws in their defense as they don't force a lot of turn overs, and aren't super effective on their defensive glass. Offensively, well, they just need to resort to a lot of prayer. KD and Westbrook will come back sometime, right?
Reggie Jackson has averaged 20.1 ppg, 7.8 apg, 5.3 rpg, and 0.9 spg -- and playing ONLY 39.3 mpg in order to do so. He fills that criteria of "someone's gotta score" on a bad team that is playing hurt. Serge Ibaka is having a solid 15.6 ppg / 7.9 rpg / 1.9 bpg season while making 37.1 3pt%. Anthony Morrow isn't as open as he was supposed to be, but still makes threes. Steven Adams, Kendrick Perkins, and Nick Collison don't scare anyone. The team is so desperate that Sebastian Telfair is playing 20.9 mpg for them.
If Utah loses tonight it will really suck.
The Marquee Match-up will be Trey Burke against Reggie Jackson. In order for Trey to prove that he is a starter he has to beat starter-wanna-bes. Jackson fits the bill for one, and he's having a very good season so far (in terms of numbers, not necessarily percentages . . . kid is scoring 20 points off of 18 shots a night). Trey isn't dominating anyone, as he scores 11 ppg off of 11 FGA too. Baby steps.
Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks should dominate their wings as well. We'll see if it happens.
We're the better team right now. We should win.
Get it done, and fly back to SLC happy, and not hungry for a win after dropping four straight games.