Game 79 Preview: Trail Blazers vs. Jazz

Game Time  7:30 p.m.  TV: TNT

The Jazz.  Wow.

If San Antonio and L.A. are the five-star restaurants of the conference the post-trade-deadline Jazz are strictly school lunch.  Seriously, it's like you knew this darn good place to eat and now you go there and they're serving wiener wraps and spaghetti from a can.  Before edging the Lakers on Tuesday night Utah was on an 8-game losing streak.  Even with that happy victory they are a whopping 6-14 since losing Deron Williams (after losing coach Jerry Sloan).  Their problem?  Points.  Lots and lots of points.  Points for the opponent, that is.  120 to the Pistons, 131 to the Knicks, 122 to the Timberwolves, 118 to the Bulls, 121 to the Hornets, 100 or more to most everybody else.  Playing the Jazz is like trick or treating.  Show up in an NBA uniform and they'll say, "How CUTE!" and stuff free points in your basket.  

Problem #2:  Almost all of their wins have featured heavy doses of Al Jefferson and Jefferson is a feast-or-famine guy.

Problem #3:  Devin Harris, their replacement for Williams, has topped 7 assists in a game only twice since he came to Utah and has missed 7 games straight with a hamstring injury.  As with Jefferson, his shooting is either glorious or ugly.

Problem #4:  Paul Millsap is awesome offensively but doesn't get enough touches.  Problem #4a:  He's not rebounding consistently, interspersing 15 rebound outings with 4 rebound outings in roughly the same number of minutes.

Problem #5:  Andre Kirilenko, actually experiencing a career revival early this season, has nosedived and is out with a knee injury.  Like Harris, he's listed as day-to-day at this point but has missed several games.

Problem #6:  All of this together means you're getting liberal doses of Earl Watson, C.J, Miles, Raja Bell, etc.  These guys, while OK in their roles, either slump or vacillate when called to play above their station.

Good News:  Power Forward Derrick Favors is on the rise.

So...lots of cloud, little bit of silver lining.  You could get amazing, 30-point, 15-rebound efforts out of some of these guys but most nights you just won't.  And even when you do there's no coordinated defense, the rebounding is spotty, three-point shooting is limited, and the offense looks imprecise compared to the best Sloan days.  Utah needs to force a lot of turnovers, grab a lot of offensive rebounds, and get plenty of easy buckets to win.

You'd THINK that the Blazers could avoid those obvious pitfalls and walk away with this game.  All it will take is for them to don't do what they did do against Golden State in their last outing.  Then again without Marcus Camby, out of this game with a sprained neck, the Blazers are small against a team that runs high-scoring-potential bigs.  Rebounding becomes an issue in this scenario, always a concern for the Blazers.  If you were to combine that with, say, bad shooting nights from some of Portland's wings (not that this EVER happens) the Blazers could be in for a long night.  Then again, the game is on TNT and Portland usually does well on Thursday nights.  This should be a comfortable romp for Portland.  We'll see what kind of game they actually bring.

SLC Dunk will hope that the Jazz can go on a winning streak tonight.  Don't laugh.  The Jazz have won back-to-back only once since the deal, those being against the Sixers and Timberwolves.  That streak also accounted for 1/3 of their total wins in that span.

The Jersey Contest form for tonight's game.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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