Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 109-93 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. The Jazz win despite not necessarily giving their all
The most interesting angle of tonight’s game was Mike Conley’s return from a few weeks missed due to a hamstring injury. Conley played 16 first-half minutes before sitting in the second half. My colleague Eric Walden has a much longer story on how he performed tonight here.
With that angle covered, we might as well talk about the Jazz’s game against the Thunder. The Jazz won it really easily, mostly through limiting the Thunder to just a 94 offensive rating. Truth be told, a lot of that was the influence of Rudy Gobert, who just scared the young Thunder away from the hoop time and time again. He allowed OKC to shoot just 50% within four feet of the basket.
Given that restriction, that the Thunder couldn’t use even layups to efficiently score, it meant that they became reliant on their outside shooting. To no surprise to anyone, they weren’t good at it.
I think you could see instances of the Jazz losing focus in this game as a result of their lower-quality opponents. The most obvious example was Gobert randomly dribbling behind his back in transition, then throwing a back-court violation — an egregious sin in a real game, but in this one, he’s just playing around.
Another was this Thunder dunk at the end of the first half: Joe Ingles just kind of zones out, loses his man, who gets an easy dunk at the end of the quarter. Even Gobert is like “uh, what?”
This is the good and bad thing about playing some of the worst teams in the league down the stretch: on one hand, you get easy wins — very useful! On the other hand, maybe your focus isn’t in peak condition going down the stretch. (That being said, the week off between the regular season and playoffs probably resets that focus meter, anyway.)
2. Dok and Pok
If I were making two seven-footers in an NBA video game, I don’t think it would be possible to make two more different than Udoka Azubuike and Aleksej Pokusevski.
Pokusevski is incredible, maybe the most unique basketball player I’ve seen. Standing at 7-0, 190 lbs, he weighs less than Jordan Clarkson does at 6-4. But his tools are absurdly good: look at how good he looks in these highlights:
And now look how bad he looks in these:
He is the ultimate boom-and-bust prospect. He could be an All-NBA player, or he could be complete garbage. So far, he’s having a truly terrible statistical season — he’s shooting 33% from the floor overall even after playing 1000 minutes — but he’s also only 19. He could figure it out and be amazing. I love him.
Udoka Azubuike is actually not really a seven-footer; he’s only 6-10. He’s 280 lbs, though, and looks like he might even be bigger. He could realistically play Hulk in a major motion picture.
Due to the Jazz futzing around a bit with the lead, he was only able to play three minutes tonight. But one of the most efficient basketball players in college basketball history couldn’t get his dunks to go down in those two minutes. One, in fact, was blocked by Poku.
I asked Gobert on his scouting report on both players. Here’s Poku’s:
“I think he has a great upside. If he’s able to get stronger, and then shoot the ball even better, I don’t put a limit to his game. He’s still so young. When I was his age, I was in France, barely playing in the French league. So, I think it’s all about how those guys put the work in and how they’re able to develop, and those things are usually not easy to predict because I’m not in his mind, but he definitely has potential.”
And here’s Gobert’s thoughts on ‘Dok:
“I think for him it’s just about getting back in shape. I think being able to — he’s a big body — so being able to run down the court, to finish at the rim, block shots, move his feet. I think before the injury, he was great at doing that. He had a tough injury. For him, it’s just about getting minutes, getting up and down the court and doing whatever he has to do, on and off the court, to try to get in great shape. And, just the same as (Poku), I think he has an amazing upside. And it’s all about how hard he’s going to work and, you know, and how consistent is going to be with everything.”
I’m fascinated by how these two players will turn out. The early statistics are definitely on Dok’s side, and usually, I trust those. But I think player tools and skillset are clearly on Poku’s side.
Neither are ready to make an NBA rotation contribution yet, but I’m excited to watch how their careers unfold.
3. The rooting breakdown for Jazz fans
It’s a fun last weekend of NBA basketball, with nearly none of the Western Conference locked up. In fact, even as all of the teams only have one or two games to play, the only seed locked up so far is the Spurs at No. 10.
What should you root for in the next couple of days? Here’s a basic rooting guide.
If you want the Jazz to get the No. 1 seed
The Jazz have to beat the Kings OR the Suns have to lose one of their two games against the Spurs.
If you want the Jazz to avoid the Lakers in the first round
So long as the Lakers are in the play-in tournament, there’s a chance that the defending champion will face the Jazz. But they can still move up to the No. 6 spot. How?
If the Lakers go 2-0 in their next 2 games (against the Pacers on Saturday and Pelicans on Sunday), the Blazers lose their matchup against the Denver Nuggets, and the Mavericks avoid going 0-2 (against the Raptors and Timberwolves), the Lakers would move up to No. 6.
Overall, ESPN estimates about a 22% chance of that scenario playing out.
Here’s another thing to consider: if they stay at No. 7, the Lakers play in that first play-in game, the winner of which will play the No. 2 seed. The Grizzlies and Warriors play on Sunday: the winner of that game will be the Lakers’ opponent. Given recent form, you’d probably prefer the Lakers play the Grizzlies in that game if you want the Jazz to avoid them and stay at No. 7.
If you want the Clippers to stay on the other side of the Western Conference Playoff bracket.
After the Clippers tanked against the Rockets on Friday night, they are now tied with the Denver Nuggets for the No. 3 seed, and the Nuggets have the tiebreaker in between the two teams.
A Clippers loss would seal a drop to No. 4, setting up a likely second round matchup with the Jazz. But they face the Thunder, who are tanking for draft positions — and are really, really, really bad. Even the Clippers worst players might be better than the Thunder’s best.
Meanwhile, a Nuggets loss would be enough to seal the Clippers keeping that No. 3 seed. If they win, the Nuggets can be the No. 3 seed. They, too, may prefer to stay at No. 4, in order to definitely avoid the Lakers at No. 6.
We’ll see what happens! The Clippers/Thunder, Nuggets/Blazers, and Jazz/Kings games all tip off at 7 p.m. MT on Sunday.