#5 Utah Jazz at #4 Oklahoma City Thunder
Time: 5:30 PM CT (TNT)
Spread: OKC -4
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Utah Jazz had a surprisingly good season under the guidance of rookie Donovan Mitchell, but will that be enough to overcome Oklahoma CIty’s “Big Three?”
Another season down, another triple-double average for Russell Westbrook. Perhaps this becomes the norm. Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder are built for the postseason, and it will be 4-point favorites in Game 1 at home against the Utah Jazz. Utah is the league’s best defensive team, however, and has the explosive Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell, as well as possible Coach of the Year Quinn Snyder.
Despite OKC packing the star power, Utah should be able to stay in this series and absolutely make it competitive. How competitive? Enough to overcome Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony? Let us take a look at the matchups and figure out!
Backcourts: Ricky Rubio/Donovan Mitchell vs. Russell Westbrook/Corey Brewer
The Utah Jazz have potentially the league’s next best thing in Donovan Mitchell, but the Thunder already possess the league’s most dynamic point guard in the explosive Russell Westbrook. Ricky Rubio slid in and admirably led the Jazz from the 1-spot, while Corey Brewer replaced the injured Andre Roberson seamlessly at shooting guard.
Brewer is a similar defender to Roberson, and he is a better shooter— probably an overall upgrade from the Thunder’s glue guy in the backcourt.
Mitchell may have a monster series, but even if he does, will lit be enough offense for the Jazz to keep pace with OKC. Can the Jazz rely on its tough defense to slow a team as loaded as the Thunder? It begins in the backcourt, where Rubio is one of the better defenders seldom given credit for such, but he will be facing a starving Westbrook who can absolutely take over games in a multitude of ways, from his rebounding to his passing, to his sometimes overzealous scoring? Still, is there a better scoring point guard to carry a team than Beastbrook?
Frontcourts: Joe Ingles/Derrick Favors/Rudy Gobert vs. Paul George/Carmelo Anthony/Steven Adams
The Thunder here has a pretty strong advantage. George and Anthony are both perennial All-Stars, and Steven Adams and Rudy Gobert are outstanding defenders who essentially cancel one another out. Albeit, Gobert may end up being the Defensive Player of the Year, but Adams is another center whose impact goes far beyond his humble stats.
Adams’ box outs and his flawless defensive positioning should help mitigate the play of Mitchell some from the perimeter, but that still leaves the matter of how Utah has any chance of slowing both George and Melo while Westbrook operates—that is the key of Big Threes, no matter who you double team, two other superstars are looming on the court. The Jazz does have x-factor Jae Crowder to come and defend George if he really gets going, but it is tough to pretend that is enough with the Thunder being one of the league’s best offensive teams while it is clicking.
The Jazz’ bench is much like its starters: defensively oriented and short on buckets. With Crowder and Ekpe Udoh backing up Favors and Gobert, the Jazz have the defensive pieces. But they lack offense off the bench, and Rubio is backed up by a still-inexperienced Dante Exum. Meanwhile, OKC has the mid-range shooting Patrick Patterson and a seldom-used Dakari Johnson behind Gobert. The Thunder also have the talented and chubby Raymond Felton behind Westbrook, along with standout rookie Terrance Ferguson behind Brewer. Ferguson could make a name for himself among these second unit players, though neither team would boast “Depth” as one of its best features.
The Bottom Line:
The playoffs are about superstars, and while Mitchell is arguably already that, it is just tough to imagine the rookie giving Utah enough of an offensive punch to stay with OKC in this series.
Prediction: Thunder in 5