Game Time: 7:00 p.m. Pacific TV: CSNNW
Another day, another tough division rival. When do we get to play Minnesota?
The Jazz come into this game proud owners of wins against Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, and Oklahoma City on the young season. They also come in proud owners of the Blazers, at least in the last couple years. Instead of the usual rap/rock fare Portland might want to select "Conjunction Junction" as their pre-game music because the Jazz have schooled them repeatedly.
Fortunately one of the guys most responsible for making the Blazers feel, ohhhh...about five years old has departed. Carlos Boozer now sets up shop in Chicago. But it's sure bet that the Utah will follow its age-old plan of cutting the feet out from under LaMarcus Aldridge and seeing if the rest of the team can generate offense and offensive rebounding without him. Heretofore the answer has been no and the prospects seem slimmer than ever. Aldridge will have to assert himself mightily in this game to give the Blazers the kind of balanced threat they'll need to stay with the Jazz.
Speaking of balanced threats, Utah now relies on a strong trio of Deron Williams, Paul Millsap, and Al Jefferson for the majority of their points, about 60 of their 102 total. Jefferson isn't his old self but he's still producing 16 points and 9 rebounds per game. He's the worst shooter of the three relative to expected positional production, although he's had a strong run in the last few games. Nevertheless he might be the guy the Blazers let slide in order to focus on Millsap (21.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 58% shooting) and Williams (22 ppg 10 apg, 46% shooting). The Blazers have to find a way to contain Millsap especially, as his threat allows everyone else to play easy. Portland must be careful because Millsap and Williams can both draw fouls against a suddenly-thin lineup. Small forwards Andrei Kirilenko and C.J. Miles and shooting guard Raja Bell round out the functional portion of the Jazz lineup. All three are suffering from nagging injuries.
Speaking of nagging, the big development for the Jazz this year is a return to their defensive roots. They're 4th in the league in field goal percentage allowed. Jefferson is weak and Millsap is average but nearly everybody else who plays can get after it. Only a poor defensive rebounding percentage keeps Utah from scaring the daylights out of opponents on that end.
As usual the Jazz both take care of and share the ball. They're smart and they'll hammer away at any opponent weakness even if that means running the same play every second time down the floor. They shoot well from the field and the free throw line but only Williams and Kirilenko are hitting from distance. Utah doesn't need the long ball to win, though, as their offense generates plenty of good looks.
The Blazers will need to force Utah's bigs into difficult shots and dominate the boards to stay in this game. They'll also need Nicolas Batum or Wesley Matthews or Rudy Fernandez (or all three) to manufacture some points against those defensive wings, thus helping Aldridge carry the torch. Three-point shooting is a likely avenue of approach. They'll need to hit them or the offense will wilt. LaMarcus, as mentioned, needs a strong game on both ends. Andre Miller should go nose to nose with Williams but doesn't have to out-produce him to keep the Blazers close. The wildcard may be Marcus Camby. He hasn't had a great offensive game in a while. Taking advantage of Jefferson's defense wouldn't be a bad game plan.
The good part about being back in survival mode is that the Blazers don't have to worry about any sweeping ramifications from this game or messages sent and received. Their focus is exactly 48 minutes long and they should play like it. The morale-boost from beating Denver is behind. Now the long trudge begins.
Go catch the visiting perspective at SLC Dunk.
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