The Utah Jazz are projected by most to finish at or near the bottom of the Western Conference standings this season. But the Oklahoma City Thunder isn't taking its season-opening opponent lightly.
“I think we all are excited to play against somebody other than each other,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “I think it's a great opportunity for us to start the season. We know what we have to do. We know some of the important things that we want to get accomplished, that is just continue to play hard basketball, tough basketball.”
Utah lost anchors Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap this summer, but Brooks said the Jazz will again be a gritty team, led by big men Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
“They've changed their personnel, but one of the things they do, their staple, is they play hard,” Brooks said. “They play a physical style of basketball. They have two low-post scorers who can offensive rebound and score at the block. We got to play defense, and we know when you're up there you always play in front of a great crowd.”
Trey Burke, college basketball's reigning National Player of the Year and the ninth overall pick, is sidelined for at least a month with a broken right index finger. Without him, the Jazz will rely on Favors and Kanter but also fourth-year forward Gordon Hayward, who averaged 16.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and three assists against the Thunder last season.
“Gordon plays hard,” Brooks said. “That guy has really improved a lot the last three years. He makes shots. He puts the ball on the floor. He takes it from basket to basket.”
FREE-THROW SHOOTING NOT A CONCERN
The Thunder lost two of the league's premier free-throw shooters in each of the last two seasons, trading James Harden to Houston and losing Kevin Martin to Minnesota.