The MVP front-runner, Russell Westbrook, and the Oklahoma City Thunder were in town on Wednesday to take on the Utah Jazz. With the Thunder comes a familiar face in former Jazz-man, Enes Kanter. The Thunder lost another in-division game the night before to the Portland Trailblazers and were looking to bounce back from the loss.
The Thunder were without Victor Oladipo, so they started Jerami Grant in his place. After being depleted by injuries for the last couple games, the Jazz began to see something they haven’t seen all season. Health. Rodney Hood, Derrick Favors, and Dante Exum all played even though they were listed as questionable at one point in the week. For Favors, it was his first game in exactly a month as he hadn’t played since 11/14/16. He was on a strict minute restriction and only ended up playing 13 minutes, but it was a good sign to see him back on the court.
Without Oladipo, the Thunder are essentially just Westbrook on offense. The Jazz needed to limit Westbrook from going off. While Westbrook did have 27 points, it took him 25 shots to get those points. They were able to cause Westbrook to be inefficient by preventing transition looks.
Kanter was the only player that was able to do anything outside of Westbrook on the offensive end. However, The Jazz were able to take advantage of Kanter when he was on the court by attacking him in the pick and roll.
The Thunder’s game plan was to take away Hayward’s scoring ability with the defense of Andre Roberson and make someone else beat them. Hayward had a decent night scoring 17 points on 14 shots, but Roberson was able to shut him down for stretches of the game. The Jazz put the ball in the hands of Hood and he was able to make plays scoring 25 points and hitting five threes. This showed the versatility of the Jazz when healthy as they can beat you in so many different ways, even if you take away Hayward.
The Jazz also got some great contributions from their bench as Shelvin Mack, Joe Ingles, Jeff Withey, Derrick Favors, and Joe Johnson all added valuable minutes. With a impressive deffensive rating of 98.3 and equally impressive offensive rating of 120.4, the Jazz were dominant on both ends and rolled the Thunder to a 109-89 win.
Three Major Takeaways
1. The Jazz Are Rolling
Having won nine of their last eleven, the Jazz are getting healthy (knock on wood) at the right time and clicking in. The only players that are not back and healthy are George Hill and Alec Burks. Hill seems to be getting closer, as Andy reported.
George Hill just got out of his walking boot, but still can’t move very well. They’re trying to minimize movement, maximize recovery.
— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) December 10, 2016
While Miami, Memphis, and Philadelphia have lost more games to injury than the Jazz, no team has has a more cumulative quality of injured players in the NBA. If the Jazz can get Hill back any time relatively soon, we could begin to see how good this team really can be.
2. The Impact Of Favors
Favors will likely be on a minutes restriction for awhile, but a limited dose of Favors is better than no Favors. It’s easy to forget that before the season started he was considered the second best player on this team. Getting him back will be a huge boost at the position that has struggled the most for the Jazz. The Jazz will need Favors healthy for the playoffs if they want to make a run.
The team could learn from the Philadelphia 76ers in how they have handled Joel Embiid’s recovery this season. He was coming off a significant injury and the team put him on a minute restriction and have held to that minute restriction throughout the year. They have even sat Embiiid on back to back games. The Jazz may not need to be as strict with Favors as the 76ers have been with Embiid, but it is okay to be cautious with him and let him work back into shape. Don’t be surprised if we see a minute restriction that doesn’t hit 30 minutes per game until March or April. The goal is for him to be healthy in April, not just mid-December.
3. The Thunder Need Playmakers
If the Thunder want to maintain their current record projections, they need to get Westbrook some help in the form of a playmaker. This roster was really built around Kevin Durant staying and being that second playmaker, and after he left Westbrook was the only player that could create shots on the roster. While these nightly triple-double heroics from Westbrook are incredibly entertaining, they would be wise to pursue another shot creator at the deadline to relieve some pressure off of Westbrook down the stretch. If they don’t, the workload from this season could legitimately shorten his career.
12 Points, 12 Rebounds, 2 Steals, 3 Blocks, 5-5 FG, 2-2 FT, +11
Gobert had another stellar game as he produced a double-double while also adding three blocks and two steals. He didn’t miss a single shot tonight as he dunked everything, which only helps him improve his league-leading field goal percentage. The defense of Gobert is a big part of what helped shut down Westbrook, who was forced to take ten shots outside of the paint that were not threes. Westbrook missed all ten of those shots.
Play Of The Game
— NBA (@NBA) December 15, 2016
FiveThirtyEight.com gave the Jazz a 78% chance to win the game and had them pegged for 51 wins. Thunder were projected to have 47 wins before the game started. With the win, the Jazz jumped up to 52 wins in the projections and the Thunder fell to 46. The best part is that after this win FiveThirtyEight is giving the Jazz a 99% chance of making the playoffs.
This turns out to be a big win for the Jazz, as the Thunder are projected to finish with a record close to the Jazz and could be fighting against them for playoff seeding. Should these teams end up with the same record, head to head record is the next tie breaker.
The Jazz have a day off before taking on the Dallas Mavericks at the Vivint Smart Home Area in Salt Lake City on Friday.