Alex is a passionate Utah Jazz fan and Five By 5 community member. This is his debut entry to The Five By 5's Community Content section.
Round 1: Utah Jazz (5th seed) vs. OKC Thunder (4th seed)
The Jazz are 1-3 this year vs. the Thunder and have lost the last three out of four games in the regular season series. On one hand, Utah comes into these playoffs on a hot streak, despite losing to the Blazers on the last night of the regular season, having won 8 of their last 11. On the other hand, OKC comes into the first round of the playoffs a bit sluggish, having only won 6 of 11 (although they looked better for the last week of the season). This should be a fun match-up for both teams. Both teams have great talent, good coaching and solid benches.
I think this series is going to be about defense. Utah is the best defensive team since the all-star game, but OKC is pretty good as well. Especially when they’ve played the Jazz this year. OKC has held Utah to under 100 points in all four games. So get ready for a Defensive battle.
The biggest problem I see for the Jazz going into this series is their scoring. Donovan Mitchell leads the team in scoring with 20.5 PPG (23.5 PPG in the last ten games). When Mitchell is hot, Utah plays great and they win. But when Mitchell can’t score, and he doesn’t get scoring help from anyone else on the team, Utah struggles.
3 Keys For Utah:
1. Help Donovan Mitchell With Scoring
For a rookie, it’s too much pressure to be the guy that has to score all the time. Mitchell has done great with the primary scoring responsibility during the regular season, but in the playoffs he’s going to need help from everyone in order to win games.
2. Defense, Defense, Defense!
OKC has 3 all stars (current and former) on their team and the Jazz need to play tight D on all three of them. Westbrook is an obvious problem, but Utah needs to remember that Carmelo can go on hot streaks too, and that Paul George can be as big of a problem (if not more) than Westbrook. And even though Melo is not shooting the ball all that great this year, and he’s averaging his lowest scoring numbers since his rookie year, that doesn’t mean you can take your eye off of him. PG is shooting the ball really badly going into the playoffs (other than the last game of the season against Memphis), and says that he “feels funny shooting the ball”. But the Jazz can’t expect him to shoot badly all series. All in all, the Jazz need to stay on their man and play hard defense for all 48 minutes.
3. Win on the Road
After all these years, Utah seems to have finally learned how to win on the road. And while the Jazz may not have been the best road team in the league on the road to start the year, after having only won 5 road games by the start of January, they ended up having a 20-21 road record by the end of the season. I think Utah needs to win either game one or game two to open this series up for a possible upset. Take the home court away from OKC, put the pressure on the Thunder, and defend it when they get home.
Donovan Mitchell vs. Russell Westbrook
Mitchell is Utah’s leading scorer and Russ is arguably OKC’s best player, but they both struggle with turning the ball over. Whichever one of them can first figure out how to play the smarter, less-turnover-prone basketball could be one of the major deciding factors in this series. Let’s not forget that Mitchell is still a rookie, and while leading Utah in scoring is something special, he still needs to focus on making the right plays offensively, and limiting his turnovers (2.7 TO’s per game). I know there’s going to be some rookie mistakes that the Jazz are going to have to give him a pass on, but it’s the playoffs, and I think the Jazz will need him to be better at taking care of the ball. Especially with Russ and PG hounding him all series long. Russ is the reigning MVP and is a really good player, but he also struggles with turning the ball over (4.8 TO’s per game). With how Utah’s offense struggles to score at times, and with how hard it will be for OKC to score against Utah’s top 3-ranked defense, limiting turnovers will be key for both teams. Additionally, both Mitchell and Westbrook can be a handful on defense when they’re locked in, and both will probably spend time guarding one another during the series. But both of them will need to figure out how to guard each other without getting into foul trouble and also keeping the energy to run the team’s offense.
Rudy Gobert vs. Steven Adams:
Gobert is one of the best defenders in the league (if not the best in the league), and is going to cause the Thunders’ offense a lot of problems. Gobert can alter shots and change the way players shoot the ball when he’s around the basket, but Adams is great in his own right. He’s one of the best rebounders in the league and will be hard to score on too. Both players need to be at top of there game and if one is having a bad night, the other needs to take advantage and take over. This should be a great battle to watch, especially since both players love competing against one another.
In closing, I think this is going to be a great match up. Though the Jazz only won one game against the Thunder this year, it’s important to keep in mind that the games happened much earlier in the year and that both teams are very different now (they last played each other on December 23rd). For the Jazz, Gobert is back healthy, they added Jae Crowder via the trade deadline and Dante Exum returned from injury. For OKC, they lost Andre Roberson to injury and added Corey Brewer. Both teams should expect to be facing an almost entirely new opponent than the one they faced back in December.
Photo Credit: thejnotes.com
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