Tip-Off: 8 PM CST
Location: Vivint Smart Home Arena (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Radio: The Sports Animal
Twitter: Follow @TheThunderGuys for live-tweets during the game
Player to Watch
SF Gordon Hayward is the leader of this young Utah Jazz team, and he has been playing lights out lately. Hayward is currently averaging career highs in points with 22.2 per game and rebounds with 5.7 per game. He also averages 3.5 assists and 1.0 steals per game. Even more impressive is how well he has played during the Jazz’s current six-game win streak. Over that span, Hayward has averaged 23.5 points while shooting an incredible 54.9% from the field and 53.6% from three. He’s also averaging 7.2 free throw attempts per game in that span while knocking down 83.7% of those. Hayward is an excellent shooter, and he can be dangerous from behind the arc, but the high percentage that he has been shooting lately is just downright outrageous. Andre Roberson will likely be tasked with guarding him, and stopping Hayward should be priority number one when it comes to the defensive end of the floor.
Keys to the Game
- Perimeter Protection: Utah ranks 10th in the NBA in 3-point percentage making 36.7% of their attempts. The Jazz have five players who take at least 3 threes a game and make 35%+ of them. Oklahoma City’s three-point defense has been above-average over the course of the season, but allowing their opponents to get hot from behind the arc has cost the Thunder several games lately. In the Thunder’s first matchup with the Jazz in Utah on December 14th, the Jazz shot an incredible 13/23 from three. Oklahoma City will have to do a much better job at protecting the perimeter unless they want to get blown out by 20 points again.
- Down Low Domination: Despite the Thunder’s ability to effectively score in the paint, Oklahoma City has struggled to stop other teams from doing the same. In the first meeting with Utah, the Thunder allowed the Jazz to put up 50 points in the paint to the Thunder’s 42. Oklahoma City averages 50.1 points in the paint to Utah’s 41.2, but the Thunder’s ability to score down low will be heavily impacted by whether or not Steven Adams is ready to return from his concussion that he sustained in Sacramento a week ago.
- Full-Blown Fast Break: Oklahoma City and Utah are polar opposites when it comes to transition offense. The Thunder likes to get out and run, which is obvious by the 17.4 fast break points per game (3rd in the NBA). The Jazz, however, likes to slow things down, which is evident by the 8.0 fast break points per game (29th in the NBA). Oklahoma City is effective at slowing down opponents’ opportunities to run in transition, and they allow only 11.0 fast break points per game (5th in the NBA), but Utah is the absolute best in the league at transition defense, allowing only 10.6 fast break points per game. In the first game between the Thunder and the Jazz, Oklahoma City managed 13 fast break points to Utah’s 3, but it was not enough to get the Jazz’s lockdown defense off balance. The Thunder need to do everything in their power to push the tempo and speed the game up to keep Utah from settling in and playing their league-leading defense.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.