Following a one-point victory over the Kings Wednesday night, the Blazers face another lottery-bound Western Conference team when the Utah Jazz host them in Salt Lake City tonight for the fourth and final meeting this season between the two teams.
Dating back to the beginning of March, the Jazz have won just three games while losing 18, many of them in blowout fashion. Over the last five games -- in which Utah has gone 1-4 -- the team has averaged just 92.8 points a night, shooting 43.4 percent from the floor and 28 percent from downtown, all three rankings near the bottom of the NBA in that timespan. The Jazz don't pick up a lot of assists or score many fast break points, though they are decent at holding onto the ball and at drawing free-throws.
If Utah's offense is difficult at times to watch, the defense is even worse. Since the end of March, the Jazz have given up 105.8 points a game while allowing a ridiculous 52.8 percent shooting from the field and 44.3 percent from downtown, by far some of the worst marks in the league. They don't defend the paint well or get back in transition, also allowing fairly easy ball movement.
In three match-ups against each other this year, the Blazers have convincingly outscored Utah, averaging of 112.3 points a game to 95.3. In those three wins, Portland averaged 48.3 percent field-goal shooting and a scorching 48.4 percent from long-range, giving up 43.6 percent shooting from the floor and 35.5 percent from deep.
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin gets his offense in a balanced manner, seeing six players attempt between nine and 12.4 shots a game the last five.
Guard Alec Burks has stepped up late in the season, leading Utah in scoring the last couple weeks with 16.8 points a game. A poor outside shooter, he prefers to take it inside most of the time, where he's an average finisher. Burks also attempts plenty of jumpers, though it's not a great shot for him. His ability to drive has garnered him almost eight free-throw attempts a game the last five.
Wing Gordon Hayward -- whom many Jazz fans were hoping would have a breakout season as the team's first option on offense -- has been a good scorer at times but lacks efficiency. He's made just 37.7 percent of his shots the last five games, including 31.6 percent of the 3.8 three-pointers night he's attempted in that span. Hayward nabs plenty of assists from the wing and, like Burks, gets to the foul line often.
Big man Derrick Favors has led the team in field-goal attempts the last several weeks after being a third or fourth option in Corbin's offense all year, taking just over a dozen shots a night for 14 points. He'll occasionally step out to the mid-range, though his jumper is shaky and he plays best in the paint, hitting about two-thirds of his attempts underneath the hoop. Backup center Enes Kanter splits time with Favors in the middle, also hitting just under half his shots the last five games. He has a slightly more reliable jumper than Favors but doesn't finish as well down low.
Point guard Trey Burke, whose shot has failed him lately -- he's made just 35.3 percent of his attempts the last five games and 18.8 percent of his threes -- has ratcheted up his passing in that time, snaring 6.8 assists a game compared to a season average of 5.5. Most of Burke's shot attempts come in the mid-range and from outside, two places the Blazers probably wouldn't mind him shooting from as he's barely an average jump-shooter on the year and is going through a rough late-season stretch.
Starting small forward and resident veteran Richard Jefferson rounds out the bulk of the scoring rotation for Utah, hitting 46.7 percent of his shots and a third of his threes the last five outings. He doesn't score consistently well from anywhere on the court other than from the corners, where Jefferson's hit almost half his shots this year.
Forwards Marvin Williams and Jeremy Evans fill out Corbin's 10-man rotation, along with guards Diante Garrett and Ian Clark. In limited attempts, both Williams and Evans have hit half their shots the last five games. Clark's hit about a third of his shots in that time, and Garrett has only connected on 12.5 percent of his field-goal tries. Outside of Burks and Kanter, the offensive production from the Jazz bench is inconsistent.
Portland has won four of its last five games with a somewhat average offense, scoring 104.4 points a night on 47.7 percent field-goal shooting and 32.7 percent shooting from deep. The Blazers have had good ball movement in that time but have struggled with turnovers, 18 coming against the Kings a couple nights ago.
The defense for Portland coach Terry Stotts the last several games has been reliable more often than not, allowing just 43.1 percent from the field and 36 percent from outside. On the down side, though, the Blazers' defense rarely forces turnovers and is easy to move the ball around on.
Forward LaMarcus Aldridge has largely carried the Portland offense the last five games, averaging almost 25 points a night on 48.5 percent shooting in that span. Expect another solid game tonight for Aldridge against an inexperienced Utah frontcourt.
Guard Damian Lillard hung 19 points on the Kings two nights ago, shooting 6-for-11 and dishing out 10 assists. He's above his season averages the last couple weeks, shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc and his assists are also up. Pay attention to Lillard's outside shooting tonight, as he's drained half his long-range tries in three games against the Jazz this season.
Wing Wesley Matthews apparently loves playing against his former team, as he's averaged 59 percent shooting and 46.2 percent from outside against Utah this year while averaging over 21 points a game in those three meetings. Forward Nicolas Batum has only averaged five shots per contest against the Jazz this season, but he's made 60 percent of them and 62.5 percent of his threes to go along with his 6 rebounds and 5.7 assists a night. He's made only about a third of his three-pointers the last five games but has found success within the arc in that time, making almost 52 percent of his shots.
Sixth man guard Mo Williams was held out of Wednesday night's game for some late-season rest, but is not listed as inactive by the team tonight. He's been about average from the field the last several games, but has seen his outside shot fall off slightly, good for under 31 percent of his threes in that time. Center Robin Lopez went 4-of-7 from the floor and 5-of-6 from the free-throw line against the Kings two nights ago, indicative of his recent solid play in which he's hit almost two-thirds of his shots as the fifth option in Stotts' offense.
Forward Thomas Robinson looked good shooting the ball Wednesday night but coughed it up four times in just 14 minutes. Wing Will Barton has been pretty unspectacular lately, making just 42.9 percent of his shots in under 10 minutes a game the last five. Forward Dorell Wright has been in an extended shooting slump the last several weeks, making 23.1 percent of his shots and 20 percent of his threes. He did, however, hit the game-winning three against Sacramento, so he may be ready to get back on track to finish the season, contributing time at both forward positions in a reserve role.
On the year, the Jazz are a pretty mediocre team rebounding the ball. Recently, though, they've outdone their opponents on the glass and have seen Kanter, Favors and Evans hit the offensive boards hard. Corbin's center duo of Kanter and Favors is the biggest threat on the defensive end, too, where they'll face Lopez and Robinson, who have done well at creating second-chance points lately. Aldridge and Wright help crash the other end. The Blazers probably have the edge in the rebounding department tonight, but don't write off the Jazz, as they have a couple talented rebounders in the middle -- Kanter and Favors -- who have both performed well on the boards down the stretch this year.
Portland shouldn't sleep on Utah tonight, as the Kings showed the Blazers on Wednesday that even an injury-depleted unit headed straight for the lottery can put up a solid fight if allowed to stay close. That considered, Portland has dismantled the Jazz on three separate occasions this year, almost every individual in Stotts' rotation showing inflated shooting numbers against arguably the worst defense in the NBA.
If the Blazers come out fully focused tonight, they should be able to get the starters some rest in what could be a fairly comfortable victory if the history between the two teams this year is any indication. Still, Utah is playing to end the season on a strong note, and a win over currently No. 5-seeded Portland would be a nice feather in the Jazz' cap if the Blazers can't put them away early.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter