The Utah Jazz (37-28) play the Oklahoma City Thunder (40-26) tonight at home. This will be the last and final meeting between these two teams. The Utah Jazz have yet to win one meeting against their division rival as the Thunder has played every one of these games like a playoff game. Two of those losses have had a playoff feel to them as the Jazz fell by only 1 point.
Tonight’s game might be the third-to-last game of the season against a team more than 1 game above .500 (Nets and Kings before finishing out the season against the Nuggets and Clippers in the last two games). Of course, that doesn’t mean anything, as the Jazz just lost to two sub-.500 teams (the Pelicans and Grizzlies) last week. Games in hand are not equivalent to games won.
Utah is trying to get back in rhythm as they suffered a disappointing loss to Memphis Grizzlies who have become a playoff spoiler to a lot of teams. The Jazz have been shorthanded at point guard once again with injuries to all of their point guards, but that nightmare may be coming to an end as Dante Exum is on schedule for a return tonight. No word yet as to what his role will be (starting or bench), but with the sheer need for another playmaker on the floor, he is sure to get hit with a lot of minutes whether he is ready or not.
The Thunder are coming off a loss in Los Angeles to the Clippers and are playing their final road game of a 4 game road trip. While they’ve had about 3 days off, there’s a chance they could still be recovering from the LA Flu (#NightLife). If there ever was a chance to steal one from Oklahoma City this season, this one is it. Utah will need to get a win as a loss could send Utah down the standings to 8th.
Russell Westbrook has been a machine post All-Star break as he’s averaging 30.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 6.8 assists on shooting splits of 47/37/64. He’s shooting terribly from the free throw line, but he’s a machine everywhere else. Utah desperately could use Dante Exum on the defensive end to slow this guy down or at least have another big body to throw at him.
While Utah has been in need of another offensive scoring threat, they may be in luck as OKC’s typically stout defense has been giving up big offensive games in the last week. The officiating will be one to watch as Paul George openly criticized the referees for their last game as both Westbrook and George fouled out in their last game. If the Jazz are getting an unfair whistle at home, it could be the result of an officiating crew afraid to repeat the missteps of the one in LA.
The Utah Jazz will need a big game from Joe Ingles. Joe Ingles has typically stepped up big against Paul George. With a lot of nights off to get ready for tonight, hopefully Joe Ingles provides Utah with a big lift on offense. With another playmaker on the floor like Exum, hopefully that allows Joe Ingles to spot up shoot more. He’s been turned into Utah’s primary playmaker averaging 8.1 assists since the All-Star break. If Utah can conserve Joe’s energy for the defensive end while guarding PG, this game shifts to Utah’s favor.
When: Monday, March 11, 2019 7:00PM MT
Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena • Salt Lake City, UT
TV: AT&T Sports Net – Rocky Mountain, Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 97.5 FM | 1280 AM The Zone,
Dante Exum — Ankle — Probable
Ekpe Udoh — Back — Probable
Ricky Rubio — Hip — OUT
Raul Neto — Hamstring — OUT
Tony Bradley — Knee — OUT
Oklahoma City Thunder:
Andre Roberson — Knee — OUT
What to watch for
It’s finally here. All signs point to him being back. Most assume Utah was super careful with Exum not because he couldn’t return earlier, but they wanted him back to 100%—not 90, not 80—when he returned to the court. They’ll need all of the juice tonight as he battles out a surging Russell Westbrook and an equally feisty Dennis Schroeder tonight. Any help he provides defensively is going to allow Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, and Rudy Gobert a big time break on the defensive end. We talk all the time about how Dante Exum is Utah’s X-Factor but tonight, he will be. If he provides good minutes defensively, doesn’t turn the ball over, and shows his patented first step of speed off the dribble again, Utah’s in good shape.
Paul George vs Joe Ingles
Nothing like watching two perennial MVP candidates battle it out. While Paul George is new to the superstar scene, Joe Ingles has been here before. Ingles has become Utah’s de facto primary playmaker without a point guard in order to allow Donovan Mitchell to go get his points. Utah will need Joe Ingles to play the foil once again tonight and get PG out of rhythm and bring that rating to a family friendly G-rating while providing R-rating trash talk. Should be a fun one.
Go Jazz Go!