For the next few days, the FPC NBA staff will preview each NBA playoff series. Next up, Justin Butler previews the Thunder vs Jazz series.
The NBA playoffs won’t be devoid of intriguing match-ups in the first round. The Thunder play the Jazz in a first-round NBA playoff series that opens Sunday in downtown Oklahoma, and it could prove to be the most competitive series in the opening round. This will make the Thunder’s eighth season in the playoffs, but the first against the Jazz.
Aside from the stellar play of Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell, and the defensive stalwart that is Rudy Gobert, little is known about this Jazz team. They lost key members that made them playoff worthy in Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood, Joe Johnson, and George Hill. Not much was expected of this current group, which was supposed to be in a rebuilding year. There wasn’t much national TV time. And Outside of Salt Lake, few would know that the Jazz won 17 of their last 21 games to establish themselves as the number 5 seed.
The Thunder, on the other hand, are laden with prime NBA stars in Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Steven Adams, and Carmelo Anthony. Westbrook, the clear alpha is literally a walking fast-paced triple-double threat on a nightly basis. George is a solid 20 point per game number two. Adams is a dominant force in the middle who can give you a double-double. And Anthony, despite the luster of his star having fallen still averaged over 15 points per game. This team represents everything about their leader, Westbrook. They are definitely flawed, and sometimes reckless, but most assuredly a dangerous group to be reckoned with.
So before tuning in here is everything you need to know about what will be an intense first-round series:
Keys to the Series
The Jazz will win if…
Rudy Gobert controls the middle his on both ends of the floor. He needs to defend the pick and roll solidly and close out on anyone that Russell Westbrook looks for after the screen is set. He also needs to get inside of Westbrook’s head and make him think twice about challenging him at the rim. If he can also maintain his 13.5 points per game to complement Donovan Mitchell’s scoring abilities, the Jazz will be a tough out. Jae Crowder must also prove to be a reliable sixth man and carry over his play from the last 21 games.
Keys To The Series
The Thunder will win if…
These three things happen listed in order of importance: Russell Westbrook has to not make it easy on the Jazz and keep hoisting up three-point attempts. He is shooting a paltry twenty-nine percent from distance. He must dominate the game by getting into the paint, scoring, rebounding, making plays for others and playing the passing lanes on defense. Paul George must find the same shooting stroke he has over the last four games that helped him average over 20 per night. And Steven Adams will need to body-up on Gobert, force him out of the paint, and rebound the ball like crazy.
Bold Prediction: Thunder win game one by double digits
For game one I expect the veteran Thunder to try and impose their will on the young Jazz and win by double digits. Westbrook will get a triple-double, The defense will swarm Mitchell, as he has no playoff experience, and Carmelo will reach into his bag of tricks and pull out a 20 point game leaving the Jazz with no counter.
With all of the negative attention that Russ has been receiving about padding his stats, I expect him to really go after it in this series. As I said before, the Thunder are a dangerous out, with a veteran cast that has been through many playoff wars, albeit not together. The Thunder win this series in six.