Utah Jazz: Utah and OKC, both minus their starting point guards, tangle Sunday night
SALT LAKE CITY — Sure, over the past few seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder have been regarded as one of the best teams in the NBA.
And, as for the Utah Jazz? Well, OK, they're not.
But the two teams have something very much in common these days — yes, they're each missing their starting point guard.
That's right, the Thunder are currently without the lightning-quick guy who makes ’em go, Russell Westbrook, and the Jazz are missing Trey Burke, the young man who's projected to be their franchise point guard of the future.
All right, so maybe that's the last time you'll see the names of Westbrook and Burke mentioned in the same sentence — unless it's something along the lines of "Trey Burke had an awfully tough time trying to defend Russell Westbrook."
After all, Westbrook is a three-time NBA All-Star who averaged 23.2 points, 7.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game last season. With his incredible quickness, athleticism and all-around ability, he is regarded as one of the elite players in the entire league.
And Burke is an NBA rookie who's still hoping to simply prove himself.
Westbrook suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee in last season's playoffs. And without him, the Thunder — who reached the NBA Finals in 2012 and won 60 games last season to earn the No. 1 seed in the West — were doomed, eventually losing to Memphis in the Western Conference semifinals.
Westbrook, who before his unfortunate injury had started every game in his five-year NBA career, had to have a second surgery on his knee when a loose stitch from the first surgery caused swelling in his knee.
He's expected to miss the first four to six weeks of the regular season, and his spot in Oklahoma City's starting lineup has been filled by point guard Reggie Jackson — which is a great name for someone who's playing professional sports in October. However, he's not related to the Major League Baseball legend nicknamed "Mr. October" in his heyday with the New York Yankees.
Burke, meanwhile, broke the index finger on his right hand in Utah's preseason loss to the Los Angeles Clippers a little more than a week ago. He could be sidelined for as long as 12 weeks, although Burke insists he'll be back in the Jazz lineup much sooner than that.
The Jazz visit Oklahoma City Sunday evening for a preseason game against the Thunder, who will also be Utah's opponent when the two teams tangle in the regular-season opener on Oct. 30 at EnergySolutions Arena.
Utah coach Tyrone Corbin, whose team is 1-3 in the exhibition season after dropping its last three preseason contests, was asked what he hopes to see the Jazz do in tonight's 5 p.m. matchup with three-time NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant and the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
"Compete," he said adamantly, "and work on the things that we've worked on on the offensive end. We've got to get sharper on the offensive end against a good defensive ballclub. We've got to make sure we get back in transition and stop their early transition baskets.
"We've got to know in a scorer like Durant how we have to play him, not just (having) a guy on Durant but the team has to be aware where he is, not let guys set screens so the guy that's guarding him can stay close to him and challenge his shots. Knowing we want to stay between him and the basket, but be closer to him and make him put it on the floor at times instead of letting him get his feet set for shots.
"There'll be a lot of different growing things that we need to see in this game, plus continue to grow as a group," Corbin said.
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