The Utah Jazz tip-off their 2013-14 season against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Energy Solutions Arena. Here are 5 statistics and thoughts to be aware of heading into tonight:
1.) The Jazz have won 16 of their last 20 home-openers. Since moving to Utah they are 15-7 when opening the regular season at home, with their last loss coming in 2001 to the Milwaukee Bucks in overtime. Their worst loss amongst those 22 games was a 119-96 defeat to Phoenix in 1990 in which Suns great Tom Chambers scored 39 points. All of which have no bearing on tonight’s game, but regardless of expectations – with a blank canvas for one game at least we can go in expecting to win.
2.) The Jazz will likely begin the 2013-14 season with a starting lineup consisting of 4 new starters compared to their opening night starting lineup from last season (Mo Williams, Gordon Hayward, Marvin Williams, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson), with Gordon Hayward being the only constant (even though he came off the bench last season as well). The only other times that’s happened since the franchise moved to Utah were 2011-12 (only holdover Al Jefferson), 2004-05 (holdover Andrei Kirilenko), and 1980-81 (holdover Adrian Dantley).
3.) Derrick Favors will be making the 45th start of his career, and surprisingly/sadly still has more starts as a New Jersey Net (23) than as a Utah Jazzman (21). How will Favors do starting the game as more of an offensive focal point? Favors averaged 9.6pts/10.9reb/1.4blk in the preseason, which translates to 13.1pts/14.8reb/1.9blk per 36 minutes. With Utah he’s started 8 games in which Al Jefferson did not play, and has posted averages of 14.5pts/11.3reb/1.1blk in those 8 games with 5 double-doubles and 3 20&10 games.
4.) John Lucas III shoots a respectable percentage on threes but a dreadful mark on two’s. In his last three seasons with Chicago and Toronto, Lucas shot 38.3% from behind the arc but just a shade under 40% from inside of it. He even struggled at the rim shooting 48% within 8-feet of the basket. Those trends continued this preseason where Lucas shot 43.5% on threes but only 33% on two’s. Whether he starts or not, Lucas will undoubtedly see minutes with Trey Burke sideline with his broken finger. Lucas isn’t a pure-scorer and he’s not someone who gets into the lane to set up teammates. He will be most effective if he takes the open looks he gets from three without looking to score off the bounce. He’ll likely always have either Burks and/or Hayward on the floor with him and would be wise to defer to their playmaking ability when the shot clock is winding down. Lucas’ 3pt-shooting can be of some value, but he needs to complement that with an efficient floor game which means understanding weaknesses and accentuating strengths.
5.) The offensive talents of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook get most of the notoriety but OKC’s team-defense was a primary reason they won 60 games in 2012-13. Over the last three seasons beginning in 2010-11, the Thunder’s defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) has improved from 15th to 8th to 3rd in the league.
In Utah’s 3 losses to OKC last year the Thunder absolutely put the clamps on the Jazz defensively. They held Utah to 20-points or less in 6 of the 12 quarters of play, while allowing just 87 points per game and 38.6% FG shooting. OKC also forced an average of 19 turnovers per game (5 above Utah’s season average of TO’s).
In Utah’s lone win they did shoot 48% and score 109 points (including 86 through 3 quarters), but if the Jazz are to win tonight they need to do so in a tough defensive battle in which they can hope their athleticism and homecourt advantage can spark a pivotal game-changing run.
It should also be noted how efficient Kevin Durant was against Utah last season – averaging 25.5pts/8.0reb/4.3ast/1.8blk while shooting 62% from the floor and 89% from the FT line. He shot so well and got to the line so often (over 9 FT’s per game) he ended up scoring 102 points on only 52 FG attempts.
Westbrook was nearly as good (22.3pts/6.0ast/7.0reb) but in his absence Reggie Jackson is a quality fill-in. In 7 preseason starts Jackson put up Per-36 numbers of 19.6pts/7.5ast/3.0reb while shooting 49% from the floor. The Thunder have more than enough talent around Durant to give the Jazz fits both offensively and defensively.
You never want to enter a game expecting to fall behind, but I feel like tonight will come down to Utah’s ability to hang around. Can they fight off nerves to start the game? Can they weather the late-1st/early-2nd quarter stretches that were often a disaster during preseason. Even without Westbrook the Thunder are the clear favorites. It could even be argued OKC has more experience playing games without Westbrook (9 postseason games) than Utah’s Core-4 have as playing in leading roles.
This Utah Jazz season is all about growth and while a victory over the Thunder would be nice, the Jazz would still gain a lot more out a close loss than a blowout loss – and we all can enjoy our night more as well. I have no idea how tonight’s game will play out, but after an offseason of analyzing, hoping, and predicting – it will be nice to finally get some answers.
Here’s to what we hope will be a fun and exciting season of Jazz Basketball.