2018 NBA Playoffs Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder vs Utah Jazz, SWOT Analysis & Prediction
We break down all the key elements that will decide the outcome of this mouth-watering Western Conference Playoffs tie.
After a regular season that can be summarized in one word - patchy - the Oklahoma City Thunder ended up as the fourth seed in the Western Conference and will now face Utah Jazz after they were defeated by the Portland Trail Blazers in their final game and lost homecourt advantage.
After acquiring Paul George and Carmelo Anthony in the offseason, the sky was the limit for the Thunder, with the OK3. But they started off the regular season rather poorly, falling to a losing record of 8-12 at one stage of the competition. OKC finally picked up momentum from there and several winning and losing streaks later, ended the season at a much respectable 48-34 record.
The Jazz, on the other hand, have an even better comeback story. Reeling at 19-28 and occupying one of the dreaded lottery spots, the Salt Lake City outfit won a clutch game against Detroit Pistons on 24th January and what followed hence was completely unheralded.
Quin Snyder's team won a total of 29 of their last 35 games and were favorites to land the third seed until Damian Lillard and Co. decided to spoil the party. They too ended with a 48-34 record. Notwithstanding the fact that the Jazz lost their best player in Gordon Hayward at the beginning of the season, they have certainly defied all odds.
Without further ado, let us have a look at what we can expect from the two teams in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
Oklahoma City Thunder
OKC's biggest strength this season has been their hustle. Be it on the boards, on defense plays, on offense, or in transition, the ballers from Oklahoma City have always played hard.
This has been the case thanks to the impeccable athleticism of reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, the two-way play of Paul George, and a late addition in the form of an always-sprinting Corey Brewer.
The Thunder are a force to be reckoned with in the rebounding department, being the 5th best in the league on the boards. Things get better on the offensive side of things as OKC have grabbed a league-best 12.5 offensive rebounds and correspondingly lead the NBA in second-chance points per game with 14.9 of them.
On the defensive end of the court, the Thunder leads the league in deflections per game. You've got to be extremely careful with the ball or chances of PG13 and Westbrook picking your pocket are extremely high with both the players ranking in the top five of the league in steals. If you're caught in transition, Brodie is simply a wrecking force topping the NBA's fastbreak points chart.
The fact that OKC are one of the top 10 teams in both offensive and defensive rating signifies their all-round capabilities.
If there's one thing that Utah really excel at, it's playing hardcore defense. Make no mistake, this team can really break the flow of your sets with lockdown plays. Not only are the Utah Jazz the best team in the league in terms of opposition points allowed at 99.8, they also rank second in the league on the defensive rating chart.
If the Thunder excel at rebounding, the Jazz have just the perfect set of players to counter that as they yet again lead the league in lowest opposition rebounds allowed per game at 41.6. You want to move the ball around to find the empty man for an uncontested shot? not happening. Utah Jazz allows only a league-best 20 assists per game to their opposition.
Utah owe their defensive prowess mainly to frontcourt player Rudy Gobert, who has an outstanding defensive rating of 97.7.
As a scorer, you'd really have to think twice before trying to get into the paint as Utah are the second best team in the NBA in terms of points allowed in the paint and chances of your shot getting blocked by the burly Gobert are really high.
On the offensive side of things, Salt Lake City's basketball team has a scoring duo in Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles. The former is leading the 2017 draft class and the Jazz in scoring with 20.5 points per game while the latter was the fourth best 3-point shooter of the regular season, converting 44% of his 5.7 3-point attempts.