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Game 23 Preview: Blazers vs. Jazz

A Look at the Jazz


Utah’s success in the last couple of years has been primarily due to their silky-smooth offense and high point totals.  This year they’ve retained the offensive firepower plus added in a little defense.  Granted their strength still belongs on the scoring side of the ball.  They’re 3rd in the league in field goal percentage, 6th in offensive rebound percentage, 1st in assists, 9th in free throw attempts, and 10th overall in scoring, but they’re also 12th in defensive field goal percentage, 3rd in the league in steals, and 1st overall in turnovers forced.  (They’re 28th overall in turnovers committed, which is bad, but that’s another story.)  If there are areas where the Jazz flag they would be three-point shooting and defensive rebounding but those haven’t stopped them from accumulating a 14-9 record, 9-3 at home and 11-2 against the West (though admittedly against its weaker sisters).


The Jazz have been beset by injuries in the early season.  Deron Williams missed 13 of their first 15 games and has yet to notch a point total higher than 15.  He’s shooting 39% from the floor, 27% from distance.  He’s making up for it by dishing assists in the mid-teens most night but this is still not the Williams we’re used to seeing.  Carlos Boozer has missed the last 11 games and will not return tonight, a huge boon for the Blazers.  While nursing the two superstars along the Jazz supporting cast has thrived by hitting every shot they throw up.  Guards and small forwards Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Miles, Matt Harpring, and Andre Kirilenko are all shooting above 47%.  Big forward Paul Millsap and center Mehmet Okur are both above 50%.  You also have to watch Kyle Korver, Okur, and Miles from the three-point arc.  As is typical of a Jerry Sloan-coached team the Jazz know how and where to set each other up and it shows.


Basically the Jazz want to control the pace, keep both sides in the halfcourt, grab rebounds to keep you away from multiple possessions, and make their superior execution tell.  They win a ton when they top 100.  They have only let their opponent reach the century mark 8 times this season.  They have lost 7 of those games.

Keys to the Game


1. Boozer being out helps, but the Jazz are still 6-5 in those games.  With Millsap and Okur on the court this is nowhere near a guaranteed win.  Nevertheless Boozer’s absence frees up possibilities for Lamarcus Aldridge.  He needs to be as aggressive tonight as he was against Orlando.  He’ll have ample opportunity to affect the game on both ends of the court.


2.  This is one of those all-or-nothing games for Greg Oden…not based on the nature of his matchup but based on what he’s shown so far.  Sometimes he dominates against smaller, perimeter-oriented centers.  Sometimes he gets run ragged by them, gets in foul trouble, and never makes a peep.  The former result would go a long way towards winning this game.  Here’s a hint:  I don’t think Mehmet Okur is going to be able to stop you if you want to run down the court and immediately set up two feet from the hoop.


3.  Portland and Utah are both good percentage shooting teams from the three-point arc but Portland takes a ton of those shots while Utah takes relatively few.  The advantage in that stat category could tell, especially since 100 points seems to be a critical mark.


4.  The other critical battle will be for offensive boards.  Portland needs the extra possessions.  They need to keep Utah from getting them.  This is one of the surer ways to tip the offensive balance.


5.  Is anyone else scared that the slumping Deron Williams will all of a sudden come alive and return to his old form against the Blazers?  That happens a lot, seemingly.  It would be nicer tonight if he didn’t.


Final Thoughts


Were Boozer playing I would pencil in this game as a loss, pure and simple.  Utah on the road is always tough for Portland.  More than that, we just lost a heartbreaker after which the team was visibly distraught.  Whether they should have been is beside the point…they were.  They’re far more used to delivering those magical wins than being on the receiving end.  There’s a certain element of emotion and destiny to the young Blazers’ play right now, belied by that reaction.  That game could have well derailed the emotions and the feelings of destiny.  That won’t be a permanent situation, of course.  The team relies on far more than mere feelings to win.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if this were a flat effort night.  It could well take them a couple games to get back on course.  I hope not, of course, but I will be pleasantly surprised if this is a fantastic-looking game from the Blazers.


Check out the Jazz point of view at SLCDunk.


Enter the Jersey Contest form for this game here.  Don’t forget that tomorrow’s game form will open up as soon as this game ends.


--Dave (