I talked to Mychal Lowman, the Editor-in-Chief of SLC Dunk, arguably one of the best SB Nation sites, about the upcoming first round series. I really wanted to get a Jazz fan’s point of view on the series. While we’re all biased, I wanted to see what they thought about things. So, here are three questions and as Paul George probably fouls him on it, an and-one.
Chuck: A lot has changed for both teams since they last played (Dec. 23, 2017), Andre Roberson has been lost for the season and the Jazz have this rookie who’s going to be Rookie of the Year, really coming into his own. Can we essentially throw out the regular season series because of all of it?
Mychal: I think we have to. Since that December 23rd game the Utah Jazz finished the season 33-15. Contrast that with the OKC Thunder which have finished the season 30-19 since that mark. Since that time, Utah has traded away Rodney Hood and released Joe Johnson. They acquired Jae Crowder from the Cleveland and moved Royce O’Neale full-time into the rotation. Ricky Rubio has found a jump shot. The NBA game has slowed down for rookie Donovan Mitchell which is frightening for opposing teams. Derrick Favors is still healthy. Rudy Gobert is the Defensive Player of the Year. Most importantly, Favors and Gobert have learned how to play effective minutes at the same time.
Meanwhile, Donovan Mitchell stopper Andre Roberson is gone which is like giving the Utah Jazz the contra code to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder still boast three All-Stars in Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony. Not to mention, Steven Adams seems to best Rudy Gobert on the offensive glass. But now there isn’t an obvious counter to Donovan Mitchell in the Thunder’s rotation unless the Thunder want to wear down Westbrook or George on the defensive end.
These two teams haven’t truly played each other in the current forms which makes this series highly unpredictable.
Chuck: What does Utah have to overcome to beat the Thunder?
Mychal: It seems crazy not to mention the All-Stars, but everyone knows Russell Westbrook and Paul George are going to get theirs. In order to beat the Thunder, the Utah Jazz must overcome Steven Adams. He had a +/- of 18.5 against the Utah Jazz during the season series. The only teams he had a higher +/- against were lottery teams. He seems to own Rudy Gobert. While Kiwi-French relations historically have been cordial, Kiwi-French relations on the basketball court are quite frosty. Gobert only averaged 10.5 points and 9 rebounds against the Thunder the from Down Under. Against the Utah Jazz Steven Adams pushes Rudy Gobert around and has averaged 4.5 offensive rebounds a game. That’s a remarkable number, period, let alone against the Defensive Player of the Year. Those extra possessions are demoralizing and necessary against Utah’s league best defense. If Steven Adams has a big series, Utah doesn’t win this. If Steven Adams has a legendary series, this series is over in 5.
Chuck: What’s Oklahoma City’s greatest weakness the Jazz can exploit?
Mychal: Their playoff experience. The Utah Jazz have been one of the best teams in basketball since January 22nd. Since that time they have rattled off win streaks of 11, 9, and 6. They haven’t lost consecutive games in that stretch. Entering the playoffs, the Utah Jazz are one of the hottest teams in the NBA and they lack playoff experience. Ricky Rubio? Never been. Donovan Mitchell? Rookie. Rudy Gobert? Was in and out of the lineup fighting off an injury sustained in Game 1 of last year’s playoffs against the LA Clippers.
Joe Johnson? Gone. Rodney Hood? Gone. George Hill? Gone. Boris Diaw? Gone. The only players who have played extensive minutes in the playoffs are Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors, and Jae Crowder. That’s it. The Utah Jazz don’t have the veterans with playoff experience anymore. They have the defense, the phenom scorer, the depth, and floor general point guard. The problem is the playoffs are different. Opposing teams can spend hours pouring over film finding your minute weaknesses. Quin Snyder can coach the hell out of Utah, but will these playoff neophytes be able to adjust in time? I’m not optimistic, but this Jazz team has made a habit out of proving people wrong.
Chuck: For an and-one: Give me your most biased prediction
Mychal: Utah is a really good road team this season. That seems weird to say of a team that’s 20-21 on the road, but think about this. Since January 22nd, Utah has only lost two games on the road. They’ve actually lost more games at home over that span of time than on the road. That’s why home court in this matchup means squat. This matchup might even embolden Utah. No expectations of home court. Less pressure. They’re not picked to win. My most biased prediction is Utah wins game one of this series. They go back to Utah and go 1-1. They then win in OKC and close it in Utah in game six. Donovan Mitchell averages 20 points a game, but the real hero of the series is Derrick Favors who destroys Patrick Patterson and Carmelo Anthony at the four spot. Derrick Favors is a free agent in the offseason, and he’d like nothing more than to pad that resume with some playoff highlights and get PAID.We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Our Podcast is on iTunes. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!