The Suns are out of the way and now the Thunder turn to what remains of the schedule before the All Star game break. Thursday’s game against Miami is of course the most salacious matchup anywhere this week, but tonight’s game against Utah has the potential to be a fun game as well.
Phoenix scored a scant 69 points against the Thunder on Sunday night with an eFG percentage of .352. That is the second time in six games that the Thunder have held an opponent below .400 in the eFG percentage category. The Jazz are certainly a better team than Phoenix, but as a below average shooting squad (17th in the NBA with a .489 eFG percentage) they will have their work cut out to find good looks against an Oklahoma City group that is playing some of the best shot defense in the game.
Injury Bug Bites Utah’s offense
Injuries have not exactly been kind to Utah this year. Mo Williams has of course been hurt since December, but while the team lost his 12.9 points per game, they still rank 11th in the NBA with 98.1 points per contest. The scoring that has not been quite so easily replaced is that of Gordon Hayward, who has missed the last eight games with a shoulder sprain.
Hayward was third on the team with an average scoring output of 13.5 points. With him in the rotation, the Jazz were averaging 98.6 points per outing. In the eight games that he has missed, they are averaging 95.6. Perhaps you think that three points a game is not a big deal? Were that number the season average, it would drop Utah seven spots to just 18th in the league in scoring.
Four teams that average fewer than 95.6 points per game would be in the playoffs today (Brooklyn, Chicago, Indiana and Memphis), but those teams also rank in the top five in defense. Utah ranks 18th in points allowed per game.
Ultimately, it would behoove the Jazz to find a way to score in spite of the injuries. Hayward (doubtful for tonight) should be back soon, but if his shoulder gives him any additional trouble can Utah continue to look like a playoff team? They are still 4-4 without him, but only one of those wins came against a team that would be in the playoffs today. Now, the schedule gets much tougher with 15 of their next 22 games coming against teams that would currently be in the playoffs.
Oklahoma City is not the only team kicking off a tough stretch and they better be prepared to take Utah’s best shot in a difficult road environment. You can bet that the Jazz will not be looking past the Thunder, so Oklahoma City better not be thinking ahead to the Miami game.