• There are five games on the schedule for Thursday, March 24th, and we at Hoop Ball are here to help guide you to the games that you don’t want to miss.

    The Honorable Mentions: The Pelicans face the Pacers and the Bulls head to MSG to take down the Knicks.

    Now for Thursday’s ‘must watch’ games of the night.

    Utah Jazz vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

    Tip Time: 8 pm (est)

    Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

    Player Matchup: Gordon Hayward and Kevin Durant

    After defeating the Rockets on Wednesday, the Jazz took sole possession of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Now if they wish to stay in the playoff picture, the team will have to find a way to slow down the duo of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

    “It feels good to know we’re still in it,” Favors said. “But we’re not in there yet so we’ve got to continue to work hard, play hard and keep winning games.”

    Utah (35-36) has been rolling as of late, winning four out of their last five games. Though they are not the most offensively gifted team, the Jazz earn their wins on the defensive side of the floor. Over their last five games they have held their opponents to an average of 83.6 points per game. No opposing team in the Jazz’s past seven has even crossed 100 point mark.

    Gordon Hayward filled the stat sheet against the Rockets, finishing the game with 22 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals. Derrick Favors, who converted the game-sealing dunk with 1.6 seconds left, had himself a nice night finishing the game with 17 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks.

    The Thunder (49-22) enter Thursday’s game on a five-game winning streak. They have been on a scoring tear averaging 119 points per game and defeating their opponents by an average of 15.4 points per contest.

    A big reason for the team’s success has been the play of Russell Westbrook, who just notched his 15th triple-double of the season against the Rockets on Tuesday – which is the most in one season since Magic Johnson had 17 in the 1988-89 season.

    Utah has faced this Thunder three times already this season and in each matchup they have come up short. A win today could give the Jazz sole possession of the seventh seed but a loss would make them surrender their playoff position to the Rockets.

    Portland Trail Blazers vs. Los Angeles Clippers

    Tip Time: 10:30 pm (est)

    Where: Staples Arena, Los Angeles, CA

    Player Matchup: Damian Lillard and Chris Paul

    Both teams are entering this matchup on the second night of a back-to-back.  Both are looking to keep breathing room over the teams directly behind them in the standings.

    Damian Lillard has been amazing over his last 10 games averaging 28.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game. Unfortunately, his great play has not resulted in wins as the Blazers are just 5-7 through the month of March.

    Lillard has struggled in the three meetings against the Clippers this season averaging 18 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists while shooting an abysmal 34.5 percent from the field. The three-year veteran understands that the playoffs are quickly approaching and that his team needs to start defending opposing teams if they want to make the playoffs.

    “We are in control of where we want to be if we can finish this thing out the right way, but we have got to defend the way we did (during an 18-4) stretch,” Lillard said.

    The Blazers’ (37-35) defense has been awful as of late. Over the last five games they have surrendered 118.6 points per game to their opponents.

    The Clippers (43-27) are struggling right now and they enter Thursday’s matchup looking to snap a three-game losing streak. The team’s defense has been terrible giving up 110 points per game to their opponents. This has led the team to a 4-7 record through the month of March.

    Chris Paul has done what he can as the team’s leader to make sure the ship does not sink as Blake Griffin makes his way back from injury. Paul has averaged 19.6 points, 11 assists and 2.4 steals per game over his last 10 games. However, against the Blazers he has not played like his usual self.  In the three meeting against Portland, he has averaged 14 points and 11 assists while shooting just 38.1 percent from the field.

    This game is going to be an offense-heavy type of game and with its playoff implications you can expect these teams to get at it.

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