The Jazz (16-17) head home after a successful trip up to Portland last night, smashing the Blazers to the tune of 120 to 90. They have a short turnaround, kicking off a four-game home stand versus the Thunder, Blazers again, 76ers, and Knicks. Including the previous two games, the Jazz are in one of the hardest 5-game segments of the season, and they face the red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder (20-10) tonight, who are (7-3) in their last ten. In their first meeting since the Jazz won in six in last year’s playoffs, the Thunder are now living up to last year’s expectations and sit in the second seed. Part of that is a resurgence by Paul George, having a crazy year, with career highs in every single counting stat at 25.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 2.1 steals, and 0.7 blocks. Another part of that is the Thunder’s lack of continuity – of the seven players who are no longer on the team, 5 of them are no longer active NBA players and the other two are on G-League two-way contracts – and their replacements are the likes of Dennis Schroder, Nerlens Noel and Hamidou Diallo. The Jazz certainly have their hands full tonight.
When: 9:00 PM ET • Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018
Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena • Salt Lake City, UT
TV: AT&T SportsNet-Rocky Mountain, Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 1280AM/97.5 FM The Zone, WWLS 98.1FM OKC
Oklahoma City Thunder:
Andre Roberson – Left Knee – OUT
What to watch for
The sophomore slump is officially hitting Donovan really hard.
He’s shot just 41.1% this season, 36.9% in December, and 32.3% in the last five games (including his 9 for 17 effort against Miami). He followed up with his 5-26 clunker with an even worse 1-10 showing last night against Portland. The eye test and the highlight test show that he’s mostly doing the right things defensively and usually making the right play or assist, but his shot selection and turnovers have been ghastly at times. It’s great to hear that teammates have his back, Quin keeps calling his number, and he has not lost confidence in himself, but Donovan really needs to figure out how to get the ball in the basket. Thankfully, Kyle, Jae, and Joe have really stepped it up recently to replace Don’s offensive production, but for the Jazz to reach their ceiling and really get on a tear, Donovan Mitchell needs to regain his mojo. No easy task against Russell Westbrook and Paul George, and no Carmelo to target...
The Thunder Big Three
Speaking of which, Russ and PG13 have really killed it the past few games. With Steven Adams, the Thunder Big Three really poured it on against the Kings in their last game: Paul George scored 43 points, Russell Westbrook had a(nother) triple-double and Steven Adams grabbed a career-high 23 rebounds in a 132-113 victory. As a trio, per game, they’re averaging a ridiculous 71.8 points, 29.3 rebounds, 15.7 assists, and 6.3 steals, tops in all categories among any set of three players in the league, per stats.nba.com. This makes the Thunder relatively top-heavy, but Dennis Schroder and Jerami Grant pick up the slack as secondary options (16.6p/4.0r/4.7a and 12.2p/4.5r/1.2b respectively). Rudy can usually do a good job limiting Steven Adams, and Rubio with Russell, but the key will probably be taking away as much of Paul George’s team-leading scoring as possible. Look for Jinglin’ Joe, Royce O’Neale, and former teammate Thabo Sefolosha to hound George as uch as possible.
In spite of this, I expect the Jazz’s improved defense (league-leading 94.1 DRTG in the last 5 games; OKC is third with a 102.3 rating) and shooting (38.5% 3PT% in last 5 games vs 34.0% on the season) coupled with a resurgence to the norm for our Spida-man will make this a close affair. The Jazz are likely in the midst of the hardest part of their season, so it’s time to turn up the energy and turn out the results.