This is a 7:00 p.m. tip on KGW TV.
A Look at the Jazz
Shorthanded or not, the Jazz have beat the Blazers twice already this season, both times convincingly, both times in Salt Lake City. Tonight the venue changes but the Jazz injury woes do not. Forward Carlos Boozer is still out and he's joined by frontcourt mate Andre Kirilenko. This puts pressure on Deron Williams, Mehmet Okur, and Paul Millsap to carry the scoring. They've done an admirable job in the last couple weeks with scores in the high 20's or even 30's from at least one of the above being the norm. Guard Ronnie Brewer has also stepped up in the scoring department. The team has lost 6 of their last 9 though, with the wins coming against Minnesota, Memphis, and Oklahoma City. They've played tough teams in 5 of the other 6 games and lost to all of them. Portland needs to be a tough team tonight.
The Jazz losses lately have been typified by runaway offense for the opponent. They haven't kept anyone out of the lane and they aren't stopping anyone from hitting beyond the arc either. That's a bad combination. The Jazz themselves aren't hitting threes or free throws. They end up wasting some phenomenal individual efforts, like a premier ballerina dancing on a stage that's caving in.
The main danger for Portland is making the game too easy for the Jazz. Those individual efforts will be there again tonight. Deron Williams is a phenomenal player, able to score and pass with ease. Paul Millsap can score and rebound. Mehmet Okur causes our centers no end of trouble with his shooting range. One or more of these guys will go off. The question is, does that break down the rest of Portland's defense, allowing the whole team easy points, making it difficult for the Blazers to keep pace? The Blazers need to be especially wary of offensive rebounds if their defense requires help. On the other hand the Blazers themselves can take advantage of offensive rebounding opportunities, as the Jazz are not phenomenal defensive rebounders and Portland has a serious size advantage at center.
Another bugaboo in both of Portland's losses to Utah has been lackadaisical transition defense. One way to make up any points the Jazz cede us is to let them get easy hoops in return.
The best defensive strategy tonight would likely be guarding the lane like Fort Knox and letting Utah shoot all of the jumpers they want. Unless those jumpers come off of penetration first the Jazz aren't likely to hit enough to make a difference.
Keys to the Game
1. The home team almost always wins in this series. This is a home game. Do not get on a plane for any reason. If somebody offers you a lift to the Rose Garden and you see a sign that says, "Next Exit: Yreka" get out of the car. Call me and I'll have somebody pick you up.
2. How do you play Mehmet Okur? On the one hand you don't want him shooting free and easy. On the other hand you want our centers to stay home for defensive and rebounding purposes. It's a nasty puzzle. Could we see power forwards on Okur instead of Oden and Przybilla while the latter players try to keep Millsap from dominating?
3. Handling the pick and roll (and/or pick and pop) is another challenge. Whether we go over the top, run around the picks, or jump and trap the dribbler we'd better do it with energy. Utah has the advantage of excellent scorers on BOTH sides of their screen plays. If you're passive you're toast.
4. Second chance points will be a big stat in this game for both teams. I'm thinking Oden scoring 10 points off of offensive rebounds (in addition to any others he gets) would be a good thing.
5. The Portland bench needs to dominate its Utah counterparts. With the injuries this should be a serious advantage.
It's never pleasant being down 0-2 to a division rival you're fighting with for playoff seeding. The Blazers really need to win the remaining two games versus the Jazz not just from a confidence standpoint but because it means a tie in the standings doesn't automatically go to Utah. This is a game we should win. This game matters.
Check out the Utah perspective at SLCDunk.
Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here. (It's the last one of the month! Somebody will win a jersey tonight!)