Portland Trail Blazers vs. Utah Jazz Preview

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The cellar-dwelling Utah Jazz take on the Western Conference-leading Blazers tonight after a 32-point loss to them Friday. Throwing the records out the window, how could the Jazz pull out the upset victory against Portland in Salt Lake City?

Monday, December 9
EnergySolutions Arena; Salt Lake City, UT | 6:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: C.J. McCollum | Out for the Jazz: Marvin Williams (day-to-day), Derrick Favors (day-to-day)

The Blazers and Jazz meet up in Utah tonight to play against each other for the second time since last Friday, sandwiching close losses for both teams over the weekend.

Dave and Ben covered Portland's loss to Dallas Saturday night, a game in which the Blazers dominated on the boards and at the free-throw line -- oddly, a few usual indicators that Portland would likely win a game. They were done in by sub-par performances in the paint on both ends, extra turnovers, allowing the Mavericks to score from all over and missing 21-of-30 three-point attempts.

The Jazz had a back-and-forth affair of their own on Saturday, ending regulation against the Kings tied at 97 points a piece. After leading at 102-101 in overtime, Utah succumbed to Sacramento and never scored again, losing the game 112-102.

We all knew that Friday's contest between the Blazers and Jazz would likely end in victory for Portland barring uncharacteristic performances by both teams, and the Blazers dispatched Utah in blowout fashion.

Friday's preview covered all the important individual and team-oriented match-ups between Portland and the Jazz, and not much has changed in the few days since, so that information is still applicable. Because there's really no need to rehash the same preview and frame exactly what's likely to happen tonight when the two teams face off for the second time in three games, let's take a look at what the Jazz would have to do in order to secure a victory against the Blazers instead.

To do so, we'll look at each team's average performances in wins and losses, considering both team and individual outputs. Yes, Utah has only won four games and Portland has conversely only lost four of its own games, so the sample sizes are small, but there are some trends that can be gleaned from the details.

When the Jazz have won games this season, they've scored about 16 more points on average than they have garnered in their losses. In wins and losses, Jazz opponents' scores have ranged from 98.8 points a night to 102.7, a noticeable difference but not nearly as important to victory as Utah's own scoring output.

Winning the assist battle has been key for the Jazz in their four wins so far, and unsurprisingly, when Utah shoots poorly, they're unlikely to beat a team. They hold teams to less efficient scoring performances in wins -- not very surprising, really -- but the differences in opponents' efficiency isn't as pronounced from game-to-game and in wins and losses as the Jazz' own performances are. Essentially, teams are going to score against Utah either way. The Jazz win games by collectively meeting where there bar is usually set and exceeding that by a great amount, meaning if they play way over their heads, Utah gives itself the best chance to win.

The only problem is that for the Jazz to piece together a good enough game for a victory, they have to see a lot go right. As you'd probably guess, winning the rebounding battle helps Utah win. Similarly, and the same can be said for just about any stat, the better a team plays across the board, the likelier they are to win. The key factor for the Jazz is outside shooting. In wins, they hit 47.3 percent of their outside attempts. In their 18 losses, they've managed just 29.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc, representing a huge swing.

Utah guards Gordon Hayward and Trey Burke seem to have the biggest impact in deciding games for the Jazz; In victories, both Hayward and Burke play much better in almost all areas. Because Hayward is shooting so poorly this year, when he takes fewer outside shots -- making a higher percentage of the ones he does attempt -- Utah plays better. Burke shoots way better and almost doubles his scoring outputs in wins. Bigs Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are somewhat consistent from game-to-game, but small forward Richard Jefferson can really help swing games the Jazz' way when he's able to get into a scoring rhythm.

In short, for Utah to have a chance at winning a game, they usually have to see Hayward, Burke and Jefferson play well above how they play when the team loses. Winning other statistical battles as a team obviously makes a victory much more obtainable for the Jazz, but performing well from behind the arc is a large source of points for them, and when they're scoring a ton more points than usual, Utah's cause is helped tremendously.

The Blazers, on the other hand, usually lose due to poor defensive performances. In both wins and losses, Portland finds ways to put points on the board. When they rebound better, the Blazers help themselves out quite a bit, but really, stopping teams from scoring easily and often is how they've won most of their games. In losses, the Blazers give up an average of 112 points, whereas in victories, they only allow the opponent to score a mean of 97.4 points.

As you could probably surmise, three-point shooting is huge for Portland's offense. They've shot terribly from deep in their losses, but usually when they've won, the Blazers have done well from beyond the arc. Opponents' percentages on three-pointers are fairly consistent in all outcomes. Opposing teams tend to shoot very accurately from everywhere on the court in the Blazers' four losses. The defense doesn't have to play perfectly for Portland to win, and the offense doesn't always have to, either, but fluctuations in defensive performance are more detrimental to the Blazers and contribute greater to losses than does their offense, as a whole.

It sounds crazy, but forward LaMarcus Aldridge tends to play well in Blazers wins. Still, he's not averaging much worse numbers in losses, showing that he's pretty consistent from game-to-game. His rebounding, though, is a huge key to victory for Portland. There's a 4.5 difference in how many boards Aldridge averages in a win vs. how many he averages in losses, so if he's not doing well on the glass, his team suffers a lot for it.

When Blazers point guard Damian Lillard takes a ton of shots, Aldridge takes fewer and the Blazers struggle more as a whole. When Lillard is less of a distributor and puts more of the scoring load on his own shoulders, Portland tends to have a harder time winning games. In losses, Lillard is the only Blazer shooting above 30 percent from outside. In victories, there are five rotational guys who average no worse than 38.3 percent on three-pointers. It can't be stressed too much how important outside shooting is to Portland's chances of winning, because it so clearly swings games into their favor when they're connecting and makes deficits difficult to surmount when they're not hitting from deep.

In Blazer wins, the scoring is spread relatively evenly across the board, but when losing, the bulk of the scoring comes from Lillard, Aldridge and to a lesser degree, Batum. If these guys get no help from the supporting cast, wins are very tough to come by for Portland. Contributions from Matthews have been huge all season, and it's no coincidence the Blazers lost Saturday night when he shot 2-10, because his shooting has been a key element to Portland's success on the year.

You saw what happened Friday when both the Jazz played as poorly as they are likely to against an elite team, and the Blazers responded to playing a weaker opponent by stomping them by 32 points, effectively putting the game out of reach with over a quarter of game-time to play.

How, then, could Utah make this game close and possibly pull out a victory against Portland?

A lot of variables would have to swing from the norm. First, the Jazz would probably have to see lights-out performances from both Hayward and Burke. Jefferson would likely have to play a good game, and the rest of the rotation would have to play mostly average or better. Securing rebounds always helps. The outside shooting would have to be top-notch.

Defensively, Utah would have to put in a solid effort from start-to-finish to beat the Blazers, paying particular attention to the three-point line. Aldridge and Lillard could have their numbers, but they'd have to be forced into extra shots to get those points, lowering the possibility of one or more of the Blazers' secondary players contributing meaningfully. Stopping Matthews would be a good way to stay in this game, because he tends to help swing games one way or the other with his shooting. Predictably, backup guard Mo Williams has a similar -- albeit smaller -- ability to keep his team in or out of games via his scoring or lack thereof.

Portland shouldn't lose this game. The Blazers delivered one of their more impressive all-around outings in the blowout victory against the Jazz last Friday, and there's no indication that an upset from Utah is likely, especially if Favors and forward Marvin Williams sit out the game as they both did Saturday against the Kings. Still, it's interesting to think about what it would take for the 4-18 Jazz to beat the odds against the 17-4 Blazers and pull out a win. The door to a Jazz win tonight over Portland is cracked, if only very slightly. This game will probably be closer than the last meeting between the two teams, and Utah will probably come out a bit stronger at home after being dismantled by the Blazers in the Moda Center, looking to attack a few of Portland's weaknesses while trying to string together a decent performance from not just a few individuals, but the team as a whole.

-- Chris Lucia | Twitter

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