The Utah Jazz (29-16) are on a roll, winning 6 straight to head into this matchup. However, in those six games, excluding the 33-point beatdown of Detroit, Utah has beat its opponents by an average of just 6.8 points. These are games that the Jazz could and should be winning by more, given their opponents (especially the Mavs, Suns, and Magic), which is why this head to head matchup against the Thunder is so important. The Jazz need to take this game at home, as they will play the Thunder two more times in Chesapeake Energy Arena. While the Jazz look to finish the season above the Thunder in the standings, in order to claim home court advantage and show their dominance over the Northwest Division.
On the other hand, the Oklahoma City Thunder (25-19) are a mixed bag, losing 6 out of their last 10 games since starting the New Year. Amazingly, Russell Westbrook is still averaging a triple-double this season. In those last 10 games, he’s had 6 trip-dubs alone, out of 21 total. Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter do some things, averaging 16.2 and 14.6 points respectively, but we all know whose team it is in the end. Just look at the projected starting lineups!
- PG: George Hill vs Russell Westbrook
- SG: Joe Ingles vs Victor Oladipo
- SF: Gordon Hayward vs Jerami Grant
- PF: Derrick Favors vs Andre Roberson
- C: Rudy Gobert vs Domantas Sabonis
Notable here are, as of writing, the omissions of Steven Adams, who is still being held out under the concussion protocol, and Rodney Hood, who is still being held out with a bone bruise and hyper-extended knee.
Marquee Matchup: George Hill vs Russell Westbrook
Westbrook scores about 30 points in both games and losses. However, he averages 11.8 assists and 11.4 rebounds in wins, while averaging only 8.6 assists and 9.6 rebounds in losses. Last time, the Jazz were able to hold him to just 27 points on 25 shots (alongside 6 rebounds and 5 assists) with George Hill not playing, and Dante Exum only playing 17 minutes. If the Jazz can force Westbrook to distribute less and take more shots himself, then they should have a better time containing the beast.
X-Factor: Paint Protection
Just looking at the projected starting lineups, the Jazz have a massive advantage in the “frontcourt.” There’s no way Andre Roberson (who actually played power forward in college, but has played shooting guard / small forward in the NBA) should reasonably contain Derrick Favors, and rookie Domantas Sabonis is no match for Rudy Gobert. On the flip side, the penetration game from OKC’s guards, Westbrook and Oladipo, is a real threat, especially both know that neither shoot particularly well from outside. Whoever protects the paint better in this game will have the easy advantage straight out of the gate.
Prediction: Jazz Win
While Westbrook will continue to beast, the more-healthy Jazz should be able to handle the Steven Adams-less Thunder in their own gym with their massive advantage inside. While this may be a recipe for a trap game, pounding the ball inside and taking advantage of the Thunder’s weak interior defense is a priority.