Following the OKC Thunder‘s third victory over the Utah Jazz this season in 3 three tries, I know which team I want the Jazz to avoid in the first round of the playoffs. Watching this young, upstart team feed off of their crowd and remain hot all game long, put a knot in my stomach that I could not untie. There are young teams who don’t know how to handle the pressure of “being there” for the first time, and then there are young teams who have a “we have nothing to lose” kind of attitude. When I watch the Thunder, I just get the feeling that they are the latter.
But enough about the Thunder, let’s get to the game thoughts and notes.
– First of all, being short-handed definitely played a huge role in this game. To be down 2 starters is never an easy thing to overcome, and it was evident tonight, especially against a team who shot over 60% from the field. Not only did the Jazz miss out on crucial talent that usually contributes, but they were limited to only 9 players. Playing with that amount of players against a team that is young, quick, and loves to run the floor is a nightmare, and you have to give the Jazz some credit for sticking tough throughout. They were always one run away from taking this game, but that run just never came.
– One specific match-up that I would have liked to see was AK on Kevin Durant. Obviously, AK would not have shut down Durant, as he is one of the best scorers in the game today, but he would have given Utah their best possible chance to slow him down. The thing that is so tough about Durant is his cartoonish length, and AK is the closest thing that the Jazz have to that. AK has very active hands, and he gets in the passing lanes. You never know what an AK “steal and score” could do for the overall momentum of the game. I have seen them single-handedly win the Jazz games this season.
– The Jazz haven’t lost consecutive games since Dec. 31 to Jan. 4 when they dropped three straight. In other words, this is their 1st losing streak in 2+ months. How Utah bounces back from this will speak volumes of this team’s character. I fully expect them to react well, even though this is unfamiliar territory. They have shown unbelievable resiliency all season long, and there is no reason for me to believe that they will not do it again. This team is too mentally tough to let a few little bumps in the road totally knock them off of their course. However, if injuries remain a concern, it might just be too much to ask.
– Other than the Thunder creeping up on the Jazz in the standings, there is something else that has me concerned. Deron Williams‘ defense on young point guards has been less-than-stellar lately, and it is something that needs to be addressed soon (Westbrook had 30 pts on 12-16 shooting and 11 assts). But none of that will even matter if Williams can’t remain healthy. Other than his banged up wrist, Williams is now dealing with an aching left shoulder. Watching him hit the floor on several occasions was painful for me, as I could only imagine what he was feeling. And of course, because Williams is such a warrior, he still put together a remarkable game (27 pts, 14 assts).
– Despite the bad taste in my mouth because of this game, Wesley Matthews‘ performance has me very excited. Matthews had a career-high 29 points on 9-11 shooting. Included in that was 6-7 from downtown. For Matthews to step up with that kind of performance in a hostile environment is a great sign for the Jazz. Remember people, this guy is an undrafted rookie!
– Well, it seems like I can put the Kyrylo Fesenko talks to rest for now. He got some playing time in this game, and he showed me exactly why Sloan doesn’t feel the need to play him. For starters, he essentially missed 2 dunks. Also, his free throw shooting is atrocious. For the game, Fesenko shot 2-8 from the charity stripe. If someone is that much of a liability from the free throw line, and they aren’t putting up 20-10 kind of numbers, they don’t deserve to see the floor.
– The Jazz have a winnable game tomorrow night against the Washington Wizards. It will be tough because of the whole back-to-back thing, but if you had to choose a team in that circumstance, the Wiz wouldn’t be too far down the list. Of course, if they are still without AK, Memo, and Price it will be extremely tough. This is a game that Utah needs to win, and it is a game that they cannot afford to lose (no, it is not the same thing). They need to win it because they want to get back on the winning track. They cannot afford to lose it because they aren’t going to have much easier games than the Wizards. If they lose this, they are missing out on a huge opportunity.