Oklahoma City and Utah finished with identical 48-34 records this season, but the Thunder received the home court advantage in this Western Conference opening round series by winning three of the four meetings.
The Jazz could have owned a home court edge and finished as a three-seed, but they lost the last game of the regular season at Portland and slid the fifth.
Oklahoma City is a -135 favorite to win the series, with Utah at +115. Here is a look at both teams heading into this series.
Regular Season Results – From Statfox.com
|Shooting||3pt shots||Free Throws||Rebounds|
|12/23/2017||OKLAHOMA CITY||103||197||SU ATS||47||39-88||44.3%||12-29||41.4%||13-16||81.2%||51||15||7|
|OKLAHOMA CITY||107||-8||SU ATS||53||40-77||51.9%||8-23||34.8%||19-22||86.4%||46||8||13|
|OKLAHOMA CITY||100||-8.5||SU Under||39||39-81||48.1%||4-18||22.2%||18-26||69.2%||59||12||18|
There were a lot of questions about putting together three superstars like Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony together, especially when they could only use one basketball on offense. Initially, it was like the VH1 reality show “SuperGroup”, a complete nightmare, with the Thunder starting 8-12.
After a quarter of the season of trying to figure what to do, Westbrook took ownership and George and Anthony had to define their space and figure it out.
Offensively, OKC did not end up poorly, averaging 107.9 points a game (12th) and ranked 7th in offensive efficiency. If Oklahoma City is to win this series, Westbrook cannot go solo and needs to involve his teammates with his forays to the basket and dishing the ball.
Though the Thunder are not a great individual defensive team, they led the NBA in turnovers forced and were 9th in defensive efficiency. The story most of the season was Oklahoma City was built for the playoffs, now we find out.
Will Utah’s Balance Defense Be Enough?
Except for Utah’s unfortunate season-ending loss at Portland, the Jazz has hit all the right notes to close the season. Utah is on a 17-4 (12-9 ATS) roll and that’s been fueled by the return of center Rudy Gobert. The Jazz big man is not only 7’1, but has a 7’9 wingspan and is a true defensive force. This in part explains why Utah was second in fewest points permitted and in defensive efficiency.
Utah does have offensive limitations and plays at a slower pace (29th in shot attempts). Yet, considering losing Gordon Heyward was supposed to be a death-blow, finishing 19th in scoring (104.1) and 17th in offensive efficiency is not that bad. Nonetheless, that is a lot of pressure to place on leading scorer and rookie Donovan Mitchell. This will require others like Ricky Rubio and Derrick Flavors to do more for a nicely balanced offense.
The End Result
The situation favors Oklahoma City as star-power and experience is supposed to matter in the playoffs. Yet since 2014, in the last eight 4 vs. 5 first round matchups, the five seed has advanced six times. Make it seven here.
Doug Upstone wrote this for ScoresandStats.com