Game 19 Preview: Blazers vs. Jazz

Game Time:  6:00 p.m. Pacific  TV:  KGW

The Utah Jazz come into this contest 8-7 and indeed, they're having an 8-7-ish year.  Their story is pretty basic.  They've beaten most of the bad and mediocre teams they've faced.  They've lost to every upper echelon team they've faced.  The combination of the 2-3 mediocre team losses plus the elite guys balances out the wins against lesser opponents.  And there you are.

The Jazz do a few things pretty well.  They share the ball, spread the scoring, and shoot well from mid-range and in.  This isn't the devastating offense of a couple of years ago but they can still score.  6 of their 8 wins have come when they topped 100.  They also happen to be 6-2 when scoring 100 or more.  The Jazz are decent rebounders and their bench is underrated.

Utah has also displayed several shortcomings in the early season.  The most glaring one has been a disturbing lack of energy.  They slough off their defensive responsibilities.  They settle for obvious offense.  That makes for some bad nights.  Their main players turn the ball over too much.  Outside of Mehmet Okur they don't have a good distance attack.  They don't have shot blockers.  They don't have a lot of team speed.  In order to win consistently they have to play Jerry Sloan basketball and they're not always doing it.

Even with all that, the top six guys on this team can be as dangerous as anybody in the league.  Carlos Boozer is a scoring machine, hitting 54% of his shots and scoring almost 20 per game plus 10 rebounds.  Deron Williams is flirting with a double-double average also, scoring just above 19 and dishing almost 10 assists.  Mehmet Okur is not providing All-Star level play but he is shooting 43% from the three-point arc.  Andre Kirilenko has good games and bad but he can still defend and he's always been a nuisance to the Blazers.  Ronnie Brewer brings athleticism to the two-spot and Paul Millsap scores and rebounds off of the bench plus his all-around game is improving.  You don't have to give these guys much of a crack before they'll pound the door down.  Their home turf isn't as friendly as it once was (they're 5-3 on the season at home) but it's always been a difficult place for Portland to play.  No matter how the two teams are doing currently this is a tough matchup for Portland.

At many positions the strengths of the two teams clash.  Deron Williams is a strong, bullish point guard who can score in droves.  The Blazers field finesse guys.  Okur is a distance-shooting center while the Blazer pivots prefer to camp in the lane.  Kirilenko is a rangy, disruptive, defensive small forward while Martell Webster is more of a smooth scorer.  Portland's bench plays flashy and tends towards skill players.  The Jazz bench is more lunch-bucket.  The two positions where you see mirrors are power forward and shooting guard.  Aldridge and Boozer are both scorers, though Carlos is more experienced and by far the better rebounder.  Roy and Brewer are both all-around guards, though Roy is far superior in talent and effect.  Both teams also sport hard-line coaches with definite ideas about how the game should be played.  It's just a nice mesh and clash of styles when these squads get together.  You can never take anything for granted other than it's probably going to be a grind-out affair.

Pivotal Points of the Game

1.  This game will be a real test of Portland's new-found defensive prowess.  The Blazers like to shut down the interior.  The Jazz love to score inside.  Somebody is going to enforce their will on the other.  That team will have a huge advantage.  If Portland's defense is going to mean something it has to mean something in games like this.  Last night's contest was not a positive sign.  The Blazers need to turn it around defensively tonight.

2.  Listen...please.  The Jazz have problems getting back in transition.  Repeat, the Jazz have problems getting back in transition.  This game could be a clash between proficient halfcourt offenses.  In that case you can probably flip a coin.  But the Blazers could slip underneath the guard and deliver some stunning jabs simply by running.  You can happily grind to a 60-60 standstill in the halfcourt if you finish ahead 20-10 on the break.

3.  Can Aldridge stay close to Boozer's production?  Will the Blazers let him try?

4.  You have to worry about Okur on the perimeter.  Somebody has to get a hand in his face.  But that somebody doesn't necessarily have to be Greg Oden.  It's time for the perimeter guys to help the Big Fella the way he's been helping them all year.  Meanwhile what's Okur going to do trying to contain Oden on the other end?  For that matter what could Boozer do?  Or any of the Jazz big men?  The Blazers ought to feed Oden early and often in this one.  Draw fouls.  Dunk.  Get mean.

5.  I'm not as frightened of Williams as I probably should be because I think the Blazers' interior defenders can help shut down whatever he does to the point guards.  He might be able to post up Blake or Miller, for instance, but we can help with that.  Guys like Brewer and Kirilenko scare me though.  If they get hot, especially with the jumper, that opens up more possibilities for the Jazz to move the ball as the Blazer defense compensates.  The Jazz moving the ball for free scores is probably their best shot at winning easily.  I'm not sure the Jazz finish ahead on the strength of their top three alone, but if they bust out with #4 or #5 it could be a long night for Portland.

Final Thoughts and Links 

Check out what the Utah folks are thinking about this matchup at slcdunk.com

Enter the Jersey Contest form for this game here.  Our Jersey Contest Master says the Minnesota glitch will be fixed by the time the weekend is over so we'll have to wait to see who won this month's contest until then.  But a new jersey is up for grabs in December, so play along!

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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