Jazz vs. Thunder—Round 1 Preview

After a season full of ups and downs, it all comes down to this—Jazz vs. Thunder in Round 1 of the 2018 NBA Playoffs.

Here’s an overview of what to look for in this first-round matchup between division rivals.

Series History

Oklahoma City held a 3-1 advantage this season, with each of the four games being played before Christmas. The teams have not met since December 23, well before Utah’s 29-6 close to the regular season.

Overall, the Jazz are 12-27 vs. the Thunder since that franchise moved to Oklahoma City from Seattle in 2009. The Jazz went 66-79 against the Seattle Supersonics.

The franchises have not met in the playoffs since 2000, when the Jazz beat the Sonics 3-2 in Round 1.

Key Matchups

Ricky Rubio vs. Russell Westbrook

Any conversation about this series has to start with reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, who averaged a triple-double—25.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, 10.3 assists—for the second straight season. Westbrook, who had the third-highest usage rate in the NBA (after Houston’s James Harden and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid), controls OKC’s offense, and he’ll most likely be guarded by the duo of Ricky Rubio and Royce O’Neale.

Rubio, who’s making his first career playoff appearance, set career highs in points, 3-pointers, FG% and usage rate in his first season with the Jazz. Since the All-Star break, he has averaged 15.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.6 3-pointers—all while shooting 43.6 percent from the field and 87.5 percent from the line.

Rudy Gobert vs. Steven Adams

Rudy Gobert, who was named Second Team All-NBA last season, is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year, and for good reason—he had the best defensive rating of any qualifying player (97.7) this season. OKC’s Steven Adams, though, just happens to be a one of the most rugged and physical centers in the league.

Their contrasting styles as they battle to set the tone in the post will be something to watch closely.

Joe Ingles vs. Paul George

Ingles ranked No. 4 in the NBA in 3FG% (.440) and No. 10 in 3-pointers made (204, a new franchise record), and he was one of just four players to finish with 200 3-pointers, 300 rebounds and 300 assists. The others were Harden, Portland’s Damian Lillard and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry.

George flew under the radar playing alongside Westbrook, but he still averaged 21.9 points and set career highs in 3-pointers (3.1) and steals (2.0) per game. He’s a star player who’s capable of taking over the game.

Cleaning the Glass

This series may come down to who can control the boards—especially when OKC is on offense.

Since Gobert returned from his second knee injury on January 19, the Jazz led the NBA in defensive rebound percentage (.808).

The Thunder, on the other hand, finished the season with the league’s highest offensive rebound percentage (.277). Adams was the only qualifying player to average more offensive rebounds (5.1) than defensive rebounds (4.0) per game this season.

Offensive rebounds, of course, lead to second-chance points—something the Jazz are excellent at avoiding. Utah ranked No. 2 in fewest second-chance points allowed (10.9), while OKC led the NBA in second-chance points scored (14.9). The Jazz went just 19-21 this season when they allowed 11 or more second-chance points.

Star Rookie

He excelled in his first season in the NBA, but Donovan Mitchell is now entering new territory with his first trip to the playoffs. Mitchell was named Western Conference Rookie of the Month for December, January, February and March/April, and he set a new NBA record for 3-pointers made by a rookie (187). Lillard had the previous record with 185 during the 2012-13 season.

Since he became a starter in early November, Mitchell has averaged 21.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.4 3-pointers per game.

Schedule

Jazz Playoff Schedule

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