Thunder (1-game losing streak)
105.4 Offensive Efficiency (3rd)
99.9 Defensive Efficiency (15th)
96.1 Pace (2nd)
Jazz (2-game losing streak)
102.1 Offensive Efficiency (11th)
102.4 Defensive Efficiency (21st)
93.7 Pace (17th)
Last night was a tough loss for the Thunder. They had plenty of chances to close the deal on Sacramento but just didn’t make plays while the Kings did. Now the Thunder will have to deal with playing in Utah on a back-to-back, not an easy task. This is also the fifth straight road game for the Thunder as they will finally round out their road trip tonight and have the next three nights off before playing Utah again with their next game in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoman reported that Thabo Sefolosha could return for this game which means he will most likely at least be back for the next Thunder game. The Thunder have definitely missed Thabo and it will feel great to have him back. For now, the Thunder need to focus on tonight and finish out this road trip strong with a solid win over an inconsistent Utah team.
Thunder keys to the game
1. Getting to the rim
The Thunder should have tired legs tonight so I wouldn’t expect them to shoot lights out. That means they are going to need to will themselves to the rim. There’s really no reason why Scott Brooks shouldn’t be able to play the big guns 40-plus minutes since the Thunder will have three nights off after this. Count on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to see a lot of action tonight and hopefully attack the basket. The Jazz are 27th in the NBA defending isolation plays and 26th defending the pick-and-roll. That means they probably should have a tough time keeping up with Durant, Westbrook and James Harden as long as they play aggressively.
2. Defending the post
The Utah Jazz look to score in the post more than any team the Thunder have played in awhile. Dumping it into Al Jefferson is something they do quite a bit and Jefferson is having a pretty good year averaging 18.5 points per game although shooting a career-low 47.0 percent from the field. The Thunder are the eighth best team in the NBA defending the post led by Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. Ibaka has been on a tear of late as he made 10 blocks last night against the Kings and now leads the NBA averaging 3.0 blocks per game this season. In the Thunder’s six games in February this season Ibaka is averaging 4.8 blocks per game. Jefferson will go one-on-one in the post the most for the Jazz but Paul Millsap may be their best interior player and a tough matchup for Ibaka. Millsap relies on savvy and good positioning to affect the game and is third in the NBA among power forwards with a 24.28 PER.
3. Run some offense in the fourth quarter please
Last night was really brutal for the Thunder with their lack of offensive movement in the fourth quarter. Every play was “get it to Durant at the top of the key and clear out.” I love Durant but there’s no reason to run that every time down the floor and it wasn’t even really working. If the matchup is right hopefully we can see some Westbrook-Durant pick-and-pop action or Harden in the pick-and-roll. The Jazz are too solid a team to simply run isolation over and over against at the end of the game. Assuming that this game will be relatively close, the Thunder are going to need some kind of offense to pull it out in Salt Lake City.
Prediction: Oklahoma City wins 108-107.