OKC at UTA Preview – Battle of the Paint

SALT LAKE CITY – Well after shoot-around had ended on Tuesday morning, Kendrick Perkins continued knocking down one-handed push-shots in the lane while Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb were fed passes from assistant coaches along the perimeter. Just hours ahead of the Thunder’s clash against the division rival Utah Jazz, every man on the roster was working extra to get a bit better.

The 27-7 Thunder are off to a productive and positive start to the season, but as they get ready to take on the 11-25 Jazz, it wants to carry over the momentum from wins in its past two games over the Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics and then improve upon it. Throughout the course of tonight’s game, the Thunder’s defensive schemes and offensive game plan will be tested by a Utah team that is playing 0.500 ball over its last ten games, so it will be important for Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club to execute better as a unit as the game goes along.

“Our commitment to continue to improve as the game goes along,” Brooks said. “The second half of the Minnesota game, we really locked into what we wanted to take away from them.”

“Then continue to move the basketball,” Brooks continued. “We have some good players who can make shots. I thought we did a good job the last two games of passing the ball and sharing the basketball and our turnovers have been down.”

Part of the responsibility to get the Thunder into its offense and distribute the ball to teammates lays on the shoulders of third-year guard Reggie Jackson, who over the last five games is averaging 14.8 points, 5.0 assists and 3.8 rebounds in just 27.8 minutes of action while shooting 50 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from three-point range.

The key for Jackson as his game continues to evolve is to attack the rim and get to the free throw line, which he did nine times in the Thunder’s victory over Boston on Sunday night.

“He has the ability to break down the defense, get into the paint and score at the basket,” Brooks said. “You can use your strength and athleticism to get to the free throw line. He did a good job of that last game and hopefully that continues to happen. If it doesn’t, he just has to continue to improve his playmaking and trying to get everybody involved.”

Jackson and Kevin Durant will be catalysts for the Thunder’s offense to flow smoothly tonight, but will also be essential parts of a team defensive effort that will be focused on containing Jazz big men Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. This season, Favors and Kanter are combining to average 24.5 points and 15.1 rebounds per game while shooting 49.7 percent from the field.

Big men like Perkins, Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka will be charged with keeping that duo out of the paint and away from their sweet spots in the lane tonight.

“They’re good young players,” Brooks said. “We have to be physical with them. We can’t allow them to get easy post position. That’s the number one part of our post defense, keeping them out of the paint, off the block and forcing them to take the 12-to-13 foot shot instead of the back-down four-foot jump hook.”

In the Notes:

- The Thunder is 2-0 against the Jazz this season, and overall is 14-7 against Utah.

- Jeremy Lamb has registered career-highs in rebounds (8) and assists (6) in the last two games.

- The most the Thunder has scored in a half this season is 66, which happened most recently in the first half against the Boston Celtics on Jan. 5th.

Broadcast Info:

8:00 p.m. CT. TV – Fox Sports Oklahoma, Radio – 98.1 FM The Sports Animal, Thunder Radio Network