Utah at Oklahoma City
Time: 8:30 PM CT (ESPN)
Spread: OKC -4.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Utah Jazz is 32-25 on the season and has won four of its last six games. The Jazz has won 10 of its last 14 games.
After Donovan Mitchell’s outstanding rookie season, many were expecting the Jazz to continue to rise in the West, but Mitchell has been mostly the same player, as the Jazz has been mostly the same team, albeit slightly worse than it was a year ago. Utah is still seeded No. 6 in the West and a serious threat, but the team has failed to take that “next step.”
Mitchell is averaging 20.7 points per game, but he has shot just 41.4 percent from the field and just 31.6 percent from behind the arc. Rudy Gobert has seemingly maximized what offensive potential he had, and the center is averaging 14.7 points per game while serving as the Jazz’s defensive anchor. Ricky Rubio is still the same player he has been over his entire career: astoundingly average. The Jazz has a deep and strong rotation, but without Mitchell making a quantum leap over his outstanding rookie season, Utah has remained in mostly the same place it has been: Good, but not good enough, in the Western Conference.
Rookie Grayson Allen has provided precious little and appeared in just 17 games. Georges Niang has done close to nothing after looking like a potential star in the developmental league. Dante Exum never has blossomed and appears to be little more than a career backup with outstanding (yet deceiving flashes). It all goes back to Mitchell, and he is the one with the chance to make an ascent to a star-level player. Will he? Or will Utah remain in the limbo it appears to be after its strong 50-plus win season a year ago?
Oklahoma City has been rolling, and its plan of attack is slightly different, so perhaps that is why. Russell Westbrook, while still a dominant force in all aspects of the game, has shifted the primary scoring responsibilities to swingman Paul George. George has thrived.
Over his past 10 games, George is averaging 34 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 4.7 assists in 38 minutes per night. The 28-year-old is in the heart of his prime and absolutely playing like it. In the month of February (three games), he is averaging 39.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and four assists.
Over his last five games, he is averaging 38.4 points per game while shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor and 48 percent from three. He has simply been en fuego–and Westbrook has facilitated plenty of it, in serving a more passive role as the Thunder’s best player and playmaker.
Westbrook had 16 points, 16 assists, and 15 rebounds in his 36 minutes against the Orlando Magic in the Thunder’s most recent 132-122 victory over the Magic. Westbrook is averaging 1.5 points per game less than his career average, but he is averaging 2.8 assists more per game than his career average of 8.3 per contest. He has had a triple-double in seven straight games, and the Thunder have won all but one of those games. It seems that OKC has stumbled across its secret to success this season, but it unclear whether this methodology will be anywhere enough to defeat the vaunted Golden State Warriors when the playoffs roll around. The only thing that is certain, is that the chances are better than ever for this OKC team. Westbrook and George are both tops at their position, and the OKC defense has been suffocating. This could finally be the year that Westbrook experiences some postseason success to pad his Hall of Fame resume after averaging a triple-double for three consecutive seasons. The emergence of George into a true superstar is what has driven it, but Westbrook is the heart and soul of the Thunder.