Through a season full of nothing but ups and downs, the Thunder find themselves exactly where many fans, media members, and insiders expected them: fourth in the NBA’s Western Conference. The playoff race was so tight that the Thunder could’ve reasonably been anywhere from the three seed to ninth, depending on a couple of games.
Looking for the perfect matchup, OKC got a pretty even draw. They avoided a first-round matchup against the Houston Rockets, avoided Portland who’s had their number for four years and stood clear of Golden State for the time being (although many like their odds against GSW). They ended up with the Utah Jazz.
Season Series: Thunder won series 3-1.
This series is expected to be the most intriguing in the Western Conference playoffs but that may not be the case. Not only did the Thunder win the season series against Utah, the games weren’t even close.
OKC’s defense has proven to be a nuisance for Utah, who already aren’t a great offensive team sitting in the bottom half of the conference, averaging just 104.3 points per game. During the season series, the Jazz only average 89.5 points per game. On the contrary, the Thunder qualify as an average offensive team in the West but average 99.2 against Utah.
What does that say about this series? It’ll be a defensive battle. A defensive battle that the Thunder should win.
They’ll win the defensive battle not because they are a better defensive team than Utah, who currently leads the league but because of the potential of their offense, which can be absolutely lethal when two or three of the big four get going. This was proven true during the season.
In OKC’s lone loss to Utah, despite Carmelo Anthony and Paul George having 20-point games, the team’s ace Russell Westbrook had a disastrous game, scoring just six points on 2-of-11 shooting. Utah beat OKC with a balanced attack as five players scored in double-figures, but none over 20 points.
In the final three wins all coming before the new year, Westbrook averaged 28.3 points per game on 56.7 percent shooting, while the big four averaged a combined 80.3 points per game.
Prediction: 4-1 OKC.
If the Thunder can play like they’ve played to end the regular season, they’ll have no problem getting through this series. That’s a big IF, though. However, if they fall back into their inconsistent ways this could easily be a six or seven-game series.
Either way, Utah doesn’t have enough firepower to beat the Thunder four out of seven times and considering their star player is a rookie that has never tasted the playoffs, the seasoned Thunder core will conquer.