SALT LAKE CITY — Earl Watson didn't mince words when expressing his opinion on the importance of tonight's game against Oklahoma City and Wednesday's contest at Minnesota for the Utah Jazz.
"I think going into the (All-Star) break, these last two games are critical games, the biggest games of the year," the backup point guard said.
It will also be a monumental challenge.
The Jazz have dropped to 28-24 after a home loss to Chicago and a road blowout in Sacramento. The Thunder are rolling, having won four in a row by a combined 101 points (25.25 per game) and shooting 50.1 percent overall and 47.7 percent from 3-point range.
On top of that, the Thunder trounced the Jazz in their only previous meeting this season, 106-94 in OKC.
"They have an amazing team. When you look at the Thunder, they have an amazing defense. Team defense is big for them," Watson said at this morning's shootaround. "That's exactly how you win games in this league and you win big by having big team defense — every one on the same page. That's something that we must have tonight against (Westbrook) and Kevin Durant."
The Jazz announced that Hayward will miss his ninth consecutive game with a sprained right shoulder. He is listed as doubtful for Wednesday's game against the Timberwolves.
NBA teams will then have from Thursday through Monday off for the annual All-Star break. Forward Jeremy Evans will be the Jazz's only participant during the weekend as he'll try to defend his Slam Dunk championship on Saturday night.
Other short shots from shootaround:
— Forward Paul Millsap on what the Jazz have to focus on tonight:
"Just get out there and compete. The main thing is going to be getting out there competing. They've got two of the elite players in this league playing tonight. If we get out there and compete and do the things we're supposed to do, we'll be all right."
— Center Al Jefferson on the Jazz's chemistry after losing two straight and going 4-4 in February:
"I love where we're at. Even with all the stuff that's been going on, we've been staying together. We've had our ups and downs, but we're staying together. We always bounce back. After the All-Star break when we get our guys back (Hayward and Mo Williams), we all get on the same page, I think we're going to be pretty tough."
— Guard Randy Foye on the Thunder's weakness:
"The weakness is that they're in our building. This is a tough place to play for anyone. We know what's at hand here. We want to finish off strong before the All-Star break. We dropped two in a row. We're looking to bounce back tonight."
— Forward Marvin Williams on going against Durant:
"It will be a good match-up for me personally. I've obviously drawn the assignment to try to slow Durant down. Tonight I've just got to come out and put forth a good effort on the defensive end."
— Williams, asked if he's ever seen a 6-9 player put up offensive shooting numbers like Durant (28.9 ppg, 51.6 FG percent, 42.7 3PT percent):
"No. Somebody his size, his ability shoot the ball, I've never seen anything like that before at all."
— Watson's response when asked if he's "definitely going tonight:"
"Going where?" he said, laughing a second later. "Yeah, I'm playing. I feel like I can play. Two games, one game at a time. Two of the biggest games of the season. I feel like I have no choice. It's a great opportunity. Who wouldn't want to play today?"