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Game 4 Preview Blazers vs. Jazz

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OK, have I mentioned yet how much I hate this early schedule?  What?  Only 9,284 times?  We’ll that’s not enough.

I hate this early schedule.

I hate lima beans, intolerance, and $4 gasoline too but I hate this early schedule more.

A Look at the Jazz

OK, so a team loses its starting point guard who also happens to be the main star and the glue guy, right?  You’d figure that team would immediately start to break down on offense, wouldn’t you?  Watch them shoot a poor percentage.  Watch them cough up the ball left and right.  Watch the assists go in the toilet.  No flow…no continuity…that’s what’s supposed to happen.  But noooo…not the Jazz.  They’re a little too special for that.  Deron Williams goes down (he may be back tonight but the last word I heard was probably not) and they rattle off three wins with almost no turnovers, mostly great shooting percentage, and enough assists and points to get the job done.  This lends credence to the long-held theory that the Jazz aren’t really normal.  As soon as a player is drafted his innards are sucked out and replaced with a telekinetic link to evil mastermind Jerry Sloan who directs everything from the bench with the power of his mind.  Foul, I say.  Foul indeed.  Shame on David Stern for yet another addition to the litany of NBA cover-ups, and shame on the mainstream press for not having the guts to expose the conspiracy.  (Cue Art Bell bumper music here.)

So what kind of horrible evils do we have to worry about tonight from the robo…errrr…the Jazz?  Let me enumerate:

1.  They’re rebounding the heck out of the ball.  Their offensive rebounding is out of this world right now and the defensive glass work isn’t bad either.  Considering the Blazers’ relative weakness in this area it’s likely we’re going to get pounded silly on the boards.  Evil.

2.  Their defense has been startlingly good so far this season, allowing an average of 82 points against the Clippers and Nuggets with barely over 42% field goal percentage allowed and 15 assists allowed.  They’re playing L*kers-level defense. Evil.

3.  They’re getting to the line six times more than their opponents, continuing unabated the parade they started last year.  Evil!

4.  17 turnovers forced per game, 11 committed.  EVIL!

5.  They have voodoo-hexed their opponents into shooting only 66% from the foul line with their black magic free throw defense juju.  The ultimate proof of…evil.

6.  Andre Kirilenko seems to have re-discovered his game, averaging 14 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1.5 blocks, 54% shooting, and 50% from the three-point arc.  Evil, evil, evil!

7.  Boozer is still Boozer, averaging 21 and 11 on 63% shooting.  EeeeeeeeeVILLLL!

8.  Mehmet Okur is stinking out the joint.  He’s shooting 39% and hasn’t hit a three-pointer yet.  He’s the only good guy on the team.

9.  Paul Millsap is winning games for them.  EVIL!!!!

10.  The Jazz as a team are getting 7 more shots a game than their opponents and making 5 of them.  EEEEEEEEEEVVVVVVVIIIIIIIILLLLLLL!!!!!!  RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!

(P.S.  11.  You can’t run against the Jazz.  They’ll just outrebound you and beat you at your own game.  Evil.)

OK, so in case you’re not getting the picture, let me spell it out for you.  The Jazz are the Shower Stall Axe-Wielding Summer Camp Masked Massacre Man and we’re the camp hoochie who smokes weed while listening to heavy metal music.  No, Blazers!  No!  Don’t walk into the bathroom!  Awwww…dangit!  Geez, that looked so fake.  You’d think they’d spring for better special effects.

Keys to the Game

1.  Do something, ANYTHING, to contain Boozer.  I don’t care if you have to triple-team him.  Make him into a passer.  Without Williams out there (or even with Williams coming back from injury) any other option the Jazz take is going to be better for Portland.

2.  Sacrifice whatever you have to in order to keep them off of the offensive glass.  The best chance Portland has is to keep both scores low, since the Jazz are likely going to keep ours down.  Cutting out the second chance points is a great way to start.

3.  One thing the Jazz cannot seem to do this year is hit a three-pointer.  We’re talking, like, 15% territory.  Even Korver has been missing them.  This is handy, as the Blazers haven’t been defending the three-point line anyway.  Pack it way in and let them shoot their way out of the slump.  (Until Korver gets cooking, then you have to keep a hand in his face.)

4.  Ronnie Price, who has replaced Williams in the starting lineup, has been doing a great job.  BUT…he cannot hit the broad side of a barn with a bazooka.  Dare him to shoot.  Cajole him into shooting.  Pay him to shoot.  Use his man for double teams.  Go behind screens set for him. 

5.  Take care of the ball if at all possible.  If you hope to keep the game low scoring possession is important.

6.  Ball movement and a five-person scoring threat will be important lest the Jazz defense just set up and wait.  This is somewhat at odds with the rebounding and turnover keys, though as our best offensive threats and motion players are not necessarily our best rebounders and ball custodians.  If there was ever a night for Portland to solve that little conundrum, this would be it.

Storylines to Watch

1.  Wind Beneath the Wings

We really need some concentrated, volume scoring from our main wing threats:  Roy, Fernandez, and Outlaw.  If we have to depend on anyone else besides them and Lamarcus we’re probably looking at a bunch of misses and Utah rebounds.  We could sure use some 20-point nights.  They’ll be up against good defenders.  Let’s see how good they are.

2.  Emotion on the Road

Young teams have problems in enemy stadiums.  One response is to come out flat.  Another is to let fear (and the game) run away with you.  Either one of those gets us killed tonight.  We have to play with sustained energy from the start and keep the scoreboard under control.  We won’t be able to come back from a 20-point deficit to Utah unless they just disintegrate (and that’s not their style).

3.  Battle of the Back-Up Power Forwards

The Blazers claim to have some power forward depth with Channing Frye and possibly Travis Outlaw.  Utah has the real deal in Paul Millsap.  It probably won’t determine the game but it’ll be nice to see them stacked up against each other.  It’ll give some perspective.

4.  Battle of the Starting Power Forwards

If Lamarcus Aldridge is going to be a superstar someday he’ll have to pass up Carlos Boozer.  Jazz games are a good all-around measuring stick for Lamarcus.

5. Who Gets In?

It’s the first game of a back-to-back.  Will Nate go deeper into the roster tonight or does that come tomorrow against the Rockets?

Final Thoughts

This feels like a game that’s either going to be memorably great or a complete and total disaster.  Smart money says the latter.

Read more of the Jazz perspective at  SLCDunk.com

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

P.S.  OK, here’s some proof that not all the Jazz are evil.  Check out BoozersBuddies.