Tonight the Utah Jazz finish off the second game of a back to back set. Last night they did not play very inspiring basketball, and lost to the Denver Nuggets 107-91 (Game Recap). The Jazz have lost four straight games, and in the last two weeks have gone 2-5, with one game remaining. It's a little bit of a damper on how well the Jazz were playing since the All-Star Break; the Jazz went 4-1, 4-1, 4-1, and now 0-4 in their last 19 games. (The five game blocks are easier to "get", because you don't play the same number of games every week.) In order for the Jazz to stop the bleeding they'll have to defeat a motivated Oklahoma City Thunder. It's going to be a big game because this is the FIRST game after the big trade. I'm talking about Grant Jerrett and Tibor Pleiss for Steve Novak. One other player of note was sent to OKC from the Jazz, none other than our former #3 draft pick: Enes Kanter.
Kanter recently shared some of his feelings with the world, and some people did not appreciate it. I get almost every point of view on that topic, but still think that a 22 year old multimillionaire is going to end up saying things he should not from time to time. But, in essence, the problem is that Jazz fans love the trade, love the defensive improvements, but it all would be easier to take if Kanter wasn't also playing well. In OKC he's averaging 18 and 10, which are Al Jefferson type of numbers. If you round up what Derrick Favors (16 and 8) and Rudy Gobert (8 and 9) are getting they don't look as impressive as a guy getting a double double. (Full breakdown on all the guys who have left the Jazz can be found here) Kanter story lines aside, this game is bigger than just a potential "revenge game" or "we're better off without you" game.
The Utah Jazz are going to hold a moment of silence for the departed Hot Rod Hundley before the game. Furthermore, they will be wearing "arm bands" for the rest of the season.
Emotions will be high on both sides of the court, and we haven't even talked about potential MVP (if they make the playoffs) candidate Russell Westbrook. Russ has been averaging 30.5 ppg, 11.1 apg, and 8.9 rpg after the All-Star break. They are holding onto the last playoff spot in the West by 3.0 games, and are 3.5 games from the #7 seed. They will get there or Westbrook's body will collapse trying.
Thunder Player Stats:
No Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, or Andre Roberson tonight for the bad guys. You instead get the super annoying Steven Adams (Taller Matt Harpring without the shooting touch), hero-in-his-own-mind Dion Waiters, and I guess Kyle Singler starting. Westbrook is the locomotive everyone else is latching onto for OKC. He's having a great season. And he can decide games all by himself. Anthony Morrow rarely misses, and has accepted his bench role here. D.J. Augustin also took a while to 'get there', and he's one of the guys Burke should gauge his game against. By missing four rotation guys the Thunder aren't as deep as they usually are. But they are still winning games with this current predicament.
Jazz Player Stats:
Gordon Hayward had a great game last night, and he'll need to have another one for the Jazz to win. Alec Burks has really been missed this season but we can't use that excuse tonight as the Thunder have missed Kevin Durant for the same number of games. Derrick Favors is doubtful tonight (back), Rodney Hood is probable (stomach), and Dante Exum should be ready to go, but he sat out a lot of last game because of the flu.
Ultimately this is going to be a game where the Jazz try to contain Westbrook, while Kanter and Gobert duke it out in the paint. Rudy Gobert is a terrific passer, finisher, rebounder, and shot blocker. Kanter is playing with a lot of confidence right now, probably too much. (Or, alternatively, the answers and posture Kanter puts on is there to hide how he really feels . . . )
Marquee Match-Up: Joe Ingles vs. Dion Waiters -- hopefully rap battle and dance off
Fearless Prediction: Kanter doesn't finish with a 20 / 10 game
Fearful Prediction: He won't have to as the Jazz get blown out