SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - FEBRUARY 23: Ochai Agbaji #30 of the Utah Jazz in action during a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Vivint Arena on February 28, 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

"It's Just Us" | Utah Faces Oklahoma City In First Of Pivotal Two-Game Showdown

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

Make no mistake, the Jazz know what's happening in the Western Conference. 

After spending much of the season focusing on themselves — and still doing so — the calendar has flipped to March, and Utah is now beginning to look around the rest of the league and what lies ahead. 

In one of the more jam-packed standings of the past decade, only 5.5 games separate fourth-seeded Phoenix and 13th-seeded Oklahoma City — with the Jazz hanging in tight at the nine seed. 

With some much congestion in the standings, a quick winning streak — or losing streak — could take a team from avoiding the play-in tournament to a team drafting in the NBA lottery. That's why every game matters; with it, the pressure continues to mount. 

"Obviously, the coaches, myself included, would be lying to you if we said that we don't look at the standings," Hardy said. "We definitely do. … But in terms of messaging to the team, things are just so tight right now that it's just about trying to play good basketball."

For Utah, Friday night against the Thunder kicks off a brutal six-game road trip spanning five cities over 11 days. Both teams are viewing the games as make-or-break showdowns — win both games and you're in the thick of the playoff race, but lose two and you can consider planning for your mid-April summer start.

But if the Jazz are feeling the pressure of what's coming, you wouldn't have been able to tell on Friday morning at shootaround. It was arguably the loosest the team has looked all season, focused on the task at hand but still having that same joy that's led them to this point. 

It also helps that they're on the road for an extended period, forced to spend time with one another — which is a joy for this team. Having that 'just us' mentality has gotten Utah to this point, and it's something they don't plan on abandoning this late in the season. 

"It's a 'just us' mentality," All-Star Lauri Markkanen said. "I kind of like playing on the road. … It's our team, we got to stick together because it's all we got. It's great to go into other arenas. … It's just us and we got to figure it out on the road, just stay together."

Utah (31-32, 11-19 road / No. 9 Western Conference)
*117.2 Points Per Game (No. 5 in NBA)
*116.1 Offensive Rating (No. 7 in NBA)
*116.8 Points Per Game (No. 21 in NBA)
*115.4 Defensive Rating (No. 23 in NBA)
*Lauri Markkanen: 25.3 points | 8.6 rebounds | 1.8 assists | 41.0% 3P-shooting
*Kelly Olynyk: 12.0 points | 5.5 rebounds | 3.2 assists | 40.1% 3P-shooting
*Kris Dunn: 12.3 points | 4.0 assists | 3.0 rebounds

Oklahoma City (28-34, 17-15 home / No. 13 Western Conference)

*117.8 Points Per Game (No. 3 in NBA)
*114.0 Offensive Rating (No. 13 in NBA)
*116.8 Points Per Game (No. 22 in NBA)
*113.1 Defensive Rating (No. 12 in NBA)
*Josh Giddey: 16.1 points | 7.7 rebounds | 5.9 assists
*Luguentz Dort: 14.1 points | 4.3 rebounds | 2.2 assists | 34.5% 3P-shooting
*Jalen Williams: 12.8 points | 4.2 rebounds | 3.1 assists | 33.3% 3P-shooting

*Walker Kessler vs. Jalen Williams
— While neither is expected to defend one another, Kessler and Williams have come out of nowhere this season and emerged as two of the best rookies in the league. Kessler, fresh off winning the Western Conference Rookie of the Month, is one of the top shot blockers in the NBA and has a growing offensive game. Williams has really come on over the past nine games, averaging 18.9 points and 4.3 assists per game. 

OUT | Jordan Clarkson (right thumb sprain)
OUT | Micah Potter (G League - Two-Way)
OUT | Collin Sexton (left hamstring strain)
Oklahoma City
OUT | Ousmane Dieng (G League assignment)
OUT | Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Abdominal Strain/ Health and Safety Protocols)
OUT | Chet Holmgren (right foot surgery)
OUT | Aleksej Pokusevski (Left Tibial Plateau; Non-displaced fracture)
OUT | Lindy Waters III (G League assignment)
OUT | Kenrich Williams (Left Wrist; Scapholunate Ligament Rupture)

 6:00 p.m. MT
Location: Paycom Center |Oklahoma City, OK
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: The Zone Sports Network