SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder will have a lot of catching up to do when they start their playoff series Sunday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The two Northwest Division rivals have not seen each other in nearly four months, since playing on Dec. 23 at Vivint Arena, their fourth meeting of the season and third in just an 18-day span.
Both teams have changed considerably since then as the Jazz have a healthy Rudy Gobert, who was out with an injury in two of the December losses and no longer have Rodney Hood. The Jazz have since acquired Jae Crowder, who is the first man off the bench.
The Thunder no longer have Andre Roberson, their defensive stopper, who went out in mid-January with a season-ending knee injury.
Here's a look at how the two teams match up heading into their best-of-seven series:
Rudy Gobert has made a strong case for defensive player of the year even though he missed 27 games because of injuries. The Jazz have been the best overall defensive team in the league with the big Frenchman in the lineup. He finished third in blocked shots with 2.3 per game and certainly led the league in altered shots and shots-not-taken-because-of-his-presence.
Steven Adams, the 7-footer from New Zealand, is one of the few true centers in the league along with Gobert and he actually outscored Gobert this year 13.8 to 13.5 and ranked 4th in field goal percentage (62.5 percent). However Gobert has the edge in rebounding and blocked shots and is a better overall defensive presence.
The Thunder have two all-stars in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, who both joined the team this season. George is still in his prime at age 27 while Anthony, a 10-time all-star before this season, is on the downward part of his career at age 33, but still an offensive threat.
After a slow start in OKC after coming from Indiana in a summer trade, George saw his numbers drop, although he did average 21.7 points Anthony had the lowest numbers of his 15-year career, but still averaged 16.2 points per game, his first time under 20 per game.
The Jazz have two dissimilar forwards in Derrick Favors (12.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg), who plays in the paint most of the time and occasionally plays center and Joe Ingles (11.5 ppg), who is a facilitator (4.8 assists) and one of the top 3-point shooters in the league (4th at 44.0 percent).
Russell Westbrook has put up MVP numbers again this year even though he won’t be among the favorites to win the award for the second straight year. Thanks to his 20-rebound night in Wednesday’s season finale, he became the first NBA player to average a triple-double in consecutive seasons (25.4 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 10.3 apg).
Corey Brewer playing for his seventh NBA team, joined the Thunder in early March and moved into a starting role, but is more of a small forward than guard. He may not be 100 percent for the playoffs after a knee injury in the season finale.
What more can you can you say about Utah’s dynamic rookie Donovan Mitchell, who has gotten more productive as the season has progressed finishing at 20.5 ppg, 3.7 apg, 3-7 rpg. Ricky Rubio, came on strong late in the year during Utah’s 29-6 surge to end the season and though he averaged career highs of 13.0 ppg, 41.8 FG and 34.9 3-point shooting, he also averaged a career-low 5.3 assists per game.
The Jazz are likely to use a four-man bench in the postseason led by Crowder, who has averaged 11.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in 28 minutes since joining the Jazz in late February. Jonas Jerebko, Royce O’Neale and Dante Exum are solid role players, who each average around 16 minutes per game.
Guard Raymond Felton and forward Patrick Patterson each played in all 82 games for OKC and averaged 6.9 and 3.9 points in 17 minutes and 16 minutes per game, respectively. Jerami Grant, a third-year 6-9 forward, played in all but one game, averaging 8.4 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. Alex Abrines and rookie Terrance Ferguson may get more time, depending on Brewer’s injury.
Both coaches are excellent, but the Thunder have underachieved under Billy Donovan, while the Jazz have overachieved under coach Quin Snyder.
Roberson, a second-team all-defense selection last year, who started the first 39 games is out for the year with a ruptured left patellar tendon. Brewer suffered a sprained his right knee in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s finale and is expected to play Sunday, but may not be 100 percent. Also, Abrines missed the season finale under concussion protocol and his status is uncertain.
Thabo Sefolosha, who injured his right knee MCL in mid-January, is the only significant Jazz player missing in the postseason.
When two evenly matched teams meet, homecourt advantage comes into play and the Thunder get four possible home games to three for Utah. While the Jazz have played better down the stretch, the Thunder may be more motivated with a team that may not be together next year with George and Anthony possibly headed elsewhere and Westbrook running out of chances.