Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz — 9 PM eastern
Did you enjoy your day off from the NBA? As much as people may despise me for it, I was happy Duke won the tournament. Any claim that Butler “deserved” it is a little bit questionable to me. Duke won all six of its tournament games. What else should it have done?
Anyway, the NBA comes back with a bang with this West intraconference matchup. The Jazz are part of the four-team scuffle for second place in the frontier, and the Thunder are close on their heels, just one-and-a-half games back. But this game is about a lot more than the standings implications.
Oklahoma City has that Durant guy, but he’s going to play well no matter what. The point-guard square-off is what I’m really interested in. Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook are two of the finest court generals in the league. Certainly, Williams is more established than his counterpart, but Westbrook has the potential to be just as good — he just needs to improve his atrocious shooting. Furthermore, Williams has, since the outset, had a top-of-the-line power forward in Carlos Boozer to help develop his game — particularly in the pick-and-roll scenario. While the Thunder have Jeff Green at the 4, he’s more of an isolation player who can obviously finish off a well-timed pass from Westbrook but doesn’t make him all that much better.
Utah will be down a primary defender for Kevin Durant in Andrei Kirilenko, who has been listed as out for the game because of his strained calf. His length and height allow him to match up physically with Durant, but we won’t get to witness that assignment.
The Thunder have gone undefeated against the Jazz this season, winning all three of their previous battles. Most recently, on March 14, Westbrook torched the Jazz for 30 points and 11 assists. Durant added a cool 35 points, including 13-13 from the free-throw line. Kirilenko did not play in that game.
As I see it, the Thunder pull off the season sweep here. The Jazz are incredibly hot right now, and there’s something to be said for streaks, but Oklahoma City evidently poses some sort of unstoppable threat for them. With Kirilenko out, Durant should run buck wild. And look for increased minutes for Oklahoma City’s bench standout Serge Ibaka to try and neutralize Boozer’s post damage.