Tip-Off: 7 PM CST
Location: Chesapeake Energy Arena (Oklahoma City, OK)
Radio: The Sports Animal
Twitter: Follow @TheThunderGuys for live-tweets during the game
Player to Watch
SF Gordon Hayward continues to have a solid season following his first ever All-Star Game appearance just a little over a week ago. Hayward is averaging a career-high 22.5 points while shooting 47.0% from the field, 39.0% from three, and 86.2% from the free throw line. He is also averaging 5.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. In his only matchup of the season against the Thunder, Hayward was held to 17 points on 6/17 shooting from the floor, including 2/6 from three, and 3/3 from the free throw line. Andre Roberson will be tasked with guarding Hayward again, and Dre will need to have another solid defensive night against Gordon to force the Jazz into find scoring elsewhere, an area where they struggle.
Keys to the Game
- Power in the Paint: Both the Thunder and the Jazz are impressive teams when it comes to their interior play. Oklahoma City ranks 2nd in the NBA with 49.7 points in the paint, 3rd with 46.5 rebounds per game, and 5th with 41.1 opponent rebounds per game. Utah, however, ranks 7th with 40.7 opponent points in the paint and 1st with 40.2 opponent rebounds. In the first two matchups between the Thunder and the Jazz, Utah dominated points in the paint by outscoring Oklahoma City by an average of 13 points. With Enes Kanter’s return from injury, the Thunder should be primed and ready to look inside to score and pull down every rebound possible.
- Speed Up the Game: When it comes to tempo, Oklahoma City and Utah are near opposites. The Thunder likes to get out and run in transition as often as possible, which leads to scoring a lot of points, while the Jazz like to slow things down and rely on their defense to win games. Oklahoma City is 3rd in the league with 17.0 fast break points per game, while Utah is 29th with 8.4 per game. Both teams are good at preventing teams from scoring in transition, though. Utah is 2nd allowing only 10.8 fast break points per game, while Oklahoma City is 6th allowing 11.5 per game. Through two games so far this season, the Thunder transition game has prevailed. Even with a 20-point loss to the Jazz, the Thunder have the fast break aspect in both meetings, outscoring Utah in transition by an average of 13 points. Oklahoma City will need to rely on its uptempo gameplay to force Utah into making adjustments on defense.
- Take Good Shots: Utah is 1st in the league in opponent scoring allowing only 95.6 points per game while holding their opposition to 43.8% shooting from the field (3rd in the NBA). Through two games against the Jazz, the Thunder has shot a mere 40.0%, and though Oklahoma City pulled out a win just a little over a month ago, it did not come easy. Utah is an extremely talented team, and their defense is relentless, so the Thunder needs to attack that defense by taking high-percentage shots as opposed to jacking up deep or contested ones that they seem to resort to far too often.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.