On Friday night, basketball fans will be treated to a Western Conference playoff rematch in what's sure to be a piping hot NBA showdown. The OKC Thunder will take on the Utah Jazz at 6:30 PM PST / 9:30 PM EST in Oklahoma City.
The Thunder and Jazz have been on two winding roads of their own in their regular season ventures. We all remember how Utah upset the Thunder led by an unbelievable performance by rookie Donovan Mitchell, overcoming perennial All-Stars Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and a clearly washed up Carmelo Anthony.
Well Russell and George are still in the fray, and they look better than ever in the duo's second season together. Russ has struggled offensively but he still can set the table collects boards like a 6'3 fiend. Also, PG has dutifully stepped in as the main bringer of buckets while unexpectedly vaulting himself into the MVP conversation. The Thunder have looked like arguably the second-best Western Conference team of the year, and kudos to them. They've come a long way since they walked off the court with their heads hung low after being eliminated at the Jazz's hands.
With greater results came greater expectations for the young team from Utah. They were pegged as possibly a #2 or 3 seed leading up to the season, but a rough start out of the gate had people reasonably casting doubts. They've since turned the corner, looking like they've regained the form they struggled to maintain. After hovering around the 14th spot early on, Utah sits firmly at the #6 seed with a record of 32-5. The Thunder, on the other hand, are #3 with a 37-20 clip. That's just two behind Denver for the #2 seed.
Unfortunately for the Jazz, some of their problems from last postseason still linger. Their sometimes lackluster offensive output was exposed in the Houston series, as the Rockets cracked the code on how to defend them. They neutralized the outside factors and made Mitchell beat them by himself, and the young rook didn't have enough firepower to do it alone. The ball got stagnant because teammates chose to defer to Mitchell, putting him in a position as the main creator. It's part of the reason why the Jazz have yearned for an established table-setter all this year - so some of the creation load can be taken off Michell.
According to Fansided, the Jazz score 100.5 ppg in losses compared to 116 in wins this year, which is the second largest point differential in victories vs. defeats. If you can disrupt their rhythm early on, they'll struggle to get back into the game. If you let them run free though, the Jazz are 18-3 if they score 115 points or more.
The Thunder have taken both games in the two times they've met this season. Last time they only edged them by one point, thanks in large part to a 43-14 game from the illustrious Paul George. Could the Thunder hit them with the 3-0 mark on the season tonight? I think it's in the cards. I see Paul George leading them to another victory off a performance that strengthens his MVP case, 115-125.
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