When Utah faces Oklahoma City on Wednesday night, it will feature two teams with vastly different goals.
With one of the youngest rosters in the league — and a bevy of draft selections in the upcoming years — the Thunder are looking to gain valuable experience and potentially make a run at the play-in portion of the NBA playoffs.
Over in Salt Lake City, the Jazz possess one of the league’s most veteran and versatile teams in the game. With a trio of all-stars leading the way and a second unit that ranks among the best in the NBA, the Jazz haven’t been shy about their goal for the season: Bring home a championship.
“We really feel like we have an opportunity to do something special,” Rudy Gobert said. “You don’t get that many of those windows in your career, so it’s a great opportunity for us, no matter what has happened, to really try to be the best we can be. It’s exciting to be a part of a group that wants to do something even better.”
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) November 24, 2021
Even with lofty expectations, Utah will be the first to admit it hasn’t lived up to their standards on the court — despite sitting at 11-6 overall (3rd in the Western Conference) and with the league’s top offense.
After years of thriving on both ends of the court, Utah has had its fair share of struggles on the defensive side this year. From giving up points in transition to defensive rebounding, the standard set from previous seasons has been lacking.
That was never more evident in Monday’s heartbreaking 119-118 loss to Memphis, a game in which the Jazz gave up 16 offensive rebounds — including three in the final 1:09. Of those 16 boards, Memphis scored 22 points — and when combined with 18 fast break points, that’s 40 extra points Utah surrendered.
Head coach Quin Snyder was very blunt when talking about Utah’s struggles in those two areas — and the players agreed with him.
“What hurt us was giving up offensive rebounds, particularly late,” Snyder said postgame. “Giving up two ends of the possession, transition defense, and defensive rebounding, they scored 50+ points on those two areas. If we have the right focus in those two areas, we aren’t in the position we are in at the end of the game.”
“It’s not just one player and we can take him out and we can blame him. It’s our whole group that is not doing a great job on transition defense and defensive glass,” Bojan Bogdanovic added.
According to Donovan Mitchell, the good news for Utah is that it’s a team capable of doing what’s asked — it just comes down to that extra bit of focus and concentration.
“We just need to lock in fully. … We can’t lose focus because that’s when these things happen,” he said.
The Jazz will have the opportunity to rectify those mistakes and turn over a new leaf when they travel to Oklahoma City to play the Thunder on Wednesday. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. MST.
It’s not the first time these two have met this year, with Utah earning a 107-86 victory in the season opener for both teams.
Despite six players finishing in double figures for the Jazz, it was an uncharacteristic shooting night in which they finished 44% from the field and 29.8% from three-point territory. Bogdanovic led the way with 22 points while Gobert added 16 points and 21 rebounds, securing his first of 14 double-doubles on the year.
Here’s a 7 minute compilation of Rudy’s best career blocks if you’re into that sort of thing. https://t.co/2V0EYYfmC4
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) November 23, 2021
Mitchell overcame an off-night shooting to finish with 16 points, 12 of which came in a crucial third quarter when Utah pulled away for the win.
“I started off slow, wasn’t mad at any of the looks I got. … It was just the shots that didn’t fall,” Mitchell said postgame. “I think maybe my first two years you get consumed with you got to be (the guy). Now it’s kind of like, we’re good, defense lock up and make the right plays, make the right passes and be good with that.”
Even with the struggles shooting, the Jazz turned to their vaunted defense to get the win. They held the Thunder to 37.4% from the floor and 20% from beyond the arc.
“Obviously, guys struggled to hit open shots from three. … But what a luxury it is that you can turn to a defense to, you know, to kind of play guys through it,” Gobert said that night.
Utah will look to summon that same sort of defensive intensity on Wednesday, ideally just in time to make that Thanksgiving turkey even more enjoyable.
Black Friday Deals are here
This deal includes tickets to watch the Utah Jazz play the Pelicans on November 27th and the Timberwolves on New Years Eve.
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) November 23, 2021
*Udoka Azubuike: OUT / G League – On Assignment
*Jared Butler: OUT / G League – On Assignment
*Elijah Hughes: OUT / G League – On Assignment
Oklahoma City Thunder
*Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: OUT / right ankle sprain
*Vit Krejci: OUT / G League – On Assignment
*Tre Mann: OUT / G League – On Assignment
*Paul Watson: OUT / G League – Two Way
Time: 6 p.m. MST
Location: Paycom Center / Oklahoma City, OK
TV: AT&T Sports Network
Radio: 1280 The Zone