Thunder vs. Jazz: How Utah Can Top OKC and Keep Final Playoff Spot in West

Morgan ChalfantContributor IIIApril 9, 2013

Utah's Mo Williams will take on Russell Westbrook at point guard.
Utah's Mo Williams will take on Russell Westbrook at point guard.Scott Halleran/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the Utah Jazz will face the Oklahoma City Thunder in Salt Lake City, and both teams have a lot to play for. With a record of 56-21, the Thunder leads the Northwest Division over the Denver Nuggets by three games. However, OKC lags a single game behind the San Antonio Spurs for the top spot in the West after a loss to the New York Knicks on Sunday.

The Thunder has five regular season games left to pass the Spurs and gain home-court advantage for the playoffs. While OKC is playing for the top spot in the Western Conference, the Utah Jazz is fighting to keep the West’s last spot in the playoffs.

Currently, the Jazz is one-half game ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth spot with a record of 41-37. With four games left in the regular season, Utah needs a win Tuesday over Oklahoma City pretty badly. 

If Utah wants to top OKC, though, the Jazz players need to contest Oklahoma City stars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Jazz guard Mo Williams will matchup with Westbrook at the guard position. After missing time for thumb surgery, Williams looks strong. He led the team in scoring on Sunday with 25 points during Utah’s 97-90 victory over the Golden State Warriors.

In six of Utah's last 18 games, Williams totaled 20 or more points. However, Williams needs to do more than score points against Westbrook. He needs to keep up with the speedy OKC guard, play Westbrook hard on defense and keep his assists up.

For the 2012-13 season, Westbrook is averaging an impressive 23.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 7.6 assists in 35.3 minutes per game. Williams will certainly have his work cut out for him on Tuesday.

And then there’s Oklahoma City small forward Kevin Durant, who averages 28.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists in 38.7 minutes of game play. The Jazz will have more trouble controlling Durant, with Utah’s Gordon Hayward relatively new to the small forward position.

Hayward played well on Friday, April 5 during the Jazz’s 95-83 win over New Orleans. He finished with 23 points but only grabbed two rebounds and one assist. He was slightly better against Golden State on Sunday, totaling three rebounds and six assists. Nevertheless, in order to contest Durant, Hayward needs to get more boards.

According to Yahoo! Sports, Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said of the team’s win over Golden State on Sunday, “This was all about them and them wanting it, and the way they came out. Although we made some mistakes in the game, everybody laid everything they had in them out there on the floor.”

There’s no question that Tuesday’s game against OKC will be about the Jazz “wanting it.” Oklahoma City has won seven of the last nine contests against the Jazz, but if Utah can control Westbrook and Durant and Williams has another stellar game, the Jazz may be able to come out on top.