Feb 14, 2012; Oklahoma City OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) goes to the basket against Utah Jazz shooting guard Gordon Hayward (20) during the third quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena Mandatory Credit: Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

Utah Jazz vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

And go …

I’ll admit I’m more than content riding on the Jazz’s unbelievable win against LA for the remainder of the season. Watching Kobe squirm in those final seconds when all hope had faded into oblivion (kind of like his shot that night), and listening to him during the post-game interviews where he reminded everyone of just how big a prick he really is, absolutely made my day.

I don’t hate Kobe because he’s good. I hated Jordan because he was good. Kobe, on the other hand, draws my hatred because he acts like he deserves greatness; and then he arrogantly shrugs off his teammates as though they were never part of his success.

Too bad.

Kevin Durant, meanwhile, is awesome. He’s popping a whopping 27.7 ppg, off 50-percent shooting. I can’t say I hate the guy, even though he’s really, really good. Like all NBA players, Durant carries an aura of egotism, but he wears it like a summer jacket – more content to leave it at home on a hot day. Durant plays ball and so far remains a likeable athlete – the type who continually makes amazing plays without demanding all of the pomp and circumstance. I remember reading this article during the whole LeBron James, Dwayne Wade soap opera two years ago and appreciating the respect Durant showed the NBA. While he did sign a hefty $80 million contract, he did so without causing a fuss; and without deserting his original team (*cough* Wesley Matthews *cough*). He’s a real class act, and I say that without any irony.

But that doesn’t mean I’ll cheer for him, especially since the Jazz are playing Durant’s unstoppable juggernauts tomorrow, and will most likely face them in the first round of the playoffs (should they squeeze past the Suns and Rockets for the eighth and final spot). I’ll cheer for him when he dukes it out against LA, the Spurs or the Nuggets. Against the Jazz, however, Durant, like my ex, is all but dead to me. (Too much? I thought that might’ve been too much …)

I’ll admit, I’m not excited for this game. The last time these two teams met, Durantula and co. clobbered the Jazz in Oklahoma City 111-85. The time before that, Utah limped off their own floor after a smouldering 28-point performance from Thunder PG Russell Westbrook pushed OKC to an easy 111-85 victory.

The Thunder are tall, quick, athletic, and poised for a deep playoff run (though I still think their youth keeps them from the big prize this year), in other words: they’re everything the Jazz should be exactly two years from now.

What makes this a watchable game?

I think our boys in blue will give OKC a run for their money this time around (call it a hunch). Since those two blowout losses, the Jazz have more or less “discovered” themselves. Coach Corbin has found a nice rotation to stick with (though I expect him to give more minutes to Burks, Kanter and Favors due to their magnificent showing against LA), especially with Hayward coming off the bench. Everyone, including Devin Harris, Paul Milsap and Josh Howard, is playing with more urgency and fluidity. And they’re confident.

Utah rides in on a terrific three game winning streak, while OKC has gone just 6-4 in their last 10 (not something you’d expect from a would-be title contender in March), so that’s something … right?

OKC’s Achilles heel has always been Westbrook’s ego. The man plays hard, but lacks Durant’s humility. Westbrook wants to be the star, while Durant, more often than not, quietly defers to his PG when he should be taking over close games (hence their disappointing playoff run last season, and surprising losses this year). And here’s a fun fact: Westbrook and Durant turn the ball over quite a bit, roughly four times a game each (not as much as Kobe, though – zing!).

After two blowout victories against Utah, I’m sure Durant and co. aren’t expecting much of a fight, especially with the Clippers, Heat and Lakers looming on the horizon.

I’m not giving any edge to the Jazz, remaining instead as I was with LA: cautiously optimistic. This is a game the Jazz shouldn’t win, but with enough uncorked emotion probably can. They have to watch out for Thabo Sefaloosie … Sefalopa … Sefalogia, oh hell, the guy who makes all the threes; and the aptly named Ibaka … who blocks shots. The Thunder allow roughly 88 ppg, which means the Jazz will have some opportunities to score.

If Utah’s BIGS recreate the magic produced in LA against the Thunder, they may have a fighting chance. But everyone needs to play exceptionally well.

I’ll watch it, even if it hurts.

Of course it helps to have a very well rested Big Al back in the lineup, along with a 75-percent healthy Earl Watson (I haven’t seen anything on them not playing, so …), though it remains to be seen which kind of Jefferson will show up: the ball hog who goes off for 30, or the one that helps the rest of the team win the game.

I’m just as curious as you are.


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Tags: Analysis Awesome Harris Hayward Howard Kevin Durant Legs Milsap Preview Utah Jazz Westbrook

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