It’s not often that teams with identical regular season records get to face each other in a playoff series. However, the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder both finished at 48-34 this season.
The fifth-seeded Jazz and fourth-seeded Thunder will attempt to make a statement in their first game of the 2018 NBA postseason today (6:30 p.m. ET Sunday on TNT).
Utah started the season with a 19-28 record, but it ended the season going 29-6. After some injury problems earlier in the year, the Jazz are now mostly healthy and are in a nice rhythm on both ends of the floor.
The Thunder have gone on streaks of great and poor basketball this year. In general, they have underwhelmed a bit based on the individual abilities their players possess. However, the playoffs are often a stage for individual greatness when defenses focus on shutting down the opponents’ offensive sets.
Will the stifling defense of the Jazz or the offensive firepower of the Thunder win out today? We’ll discuss some key talking points about this NBA playoff Game 1 matchup and ultimately provide some direction on the USA oddsmakers’ betting lines for the game. That will include our Utah Jazz vs OKC predictions and picks.
Will Thunder’s Athleticism Cause Problems for Jazz Ball-Handlers?
Ever since Thunder defensive stopper Andre Roberson went down with an injury in late January, Oklahoma City has been an up and down defensive team. One thing the team has continued to do is get plenty of deflections and steals. Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Corey Brewer and Jerami Grant are all defensive playmakers who love to ignite the fast break with their length and athleticism on defense.
Utah’s biggest weakness on offense is its propensity for turnovers. The Jazz turned the ball over on 13.7 percent of its possessions in the regular season, which ranked just 24th in the NBA. On the Thunder’s side, they forced turnovers on 14.7 percent of defensive possessions, which was the best mark in the NBA.
Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell is the offensive leader for this team, but he is still so inexperienced in the NBA. Can Mitchell and all the other Utah ball-handlers stay composed with all the Thunder limbs flying around?
Can Steven Adams Give Rudy Gobert Any Trouble?
Adams and Gobert are somewhat similar players. Gobert is better, especially as a rim protector with his extra wingspan, but they have similar strengths and weaknesses. Both are excellent rebounders who are primary screen-setters, rim runners and second-chance point scorers on offense.
Gobert is the Jazz’ best and most important player. If Adams, the Thunder’s third-best player, can neutralize Gobert in the paint with his brute strength, the Thunder have a major advantage in this game. Both guys are also somewhat prone to foul trouble.
If Adams can set the tone of the game by aggressively going at Gobert on offense, he can give his teammates confidence on their home floor to do the same.
Can Billy Donovan Find Good Lineup Combinations versus the Jazz?
In winning 29 of their last 35 games, the Jazz have found a groove in their rotations. Coach Quin Snyder knows who is playing at what points in the game, and he has done a great job maximizing the talent on his roster.
On the other hand, Billy Donovan has struggled to make use of his talent. In particular, Carmelo Anthony has been a terrible fit in most of the lineups he plays in, but he continues to start and get big minutes.
Anthony will probably get the start at power forward and have to deal with Derrick Favors, who is very strong down low. That seems like a tough matchup for him.
In general, though, Donovan needs to find rotations that will generate a more consistent and steady effort from his squad. Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Steven Adams are all talented players who need to be maximized.
Our Preview’s Utah Jazz at OKC Betting Picks & Predictions
The Thunder are such a tough team to rely on as a betting option because of their inconsistency. They are capable of blowing out the Jazz, but I believe the Jazz are even more capable of blowing out the Thunder because of their superior discipline, especially on the defensive end. So these are the Utah Jazz vs Thunder predictions and picks for this preview:
- The top betting outlets all have Oklahoma City favored by 3.5 points. The Jazz have not been daunted by road games the entire second half of the season and should cover the spread. Bet on the Jazz +4.5 @ -105 with Bookmaker. It is +4pts for -110 with most other firms.
- These two teams will come out after a long layoff looking to push the pace, but I think both squads’ defenses will also be locked in. Once some of the adrenaline wears off, we will see the pace slow down and both defenses continue to play well. This preview recommends betting the under 206 @ -105 with Bovada. It is -110 with the others.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets.