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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Utah Jazz Preview

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The Portland Trail Blazers look to get back over .500 against the Utah Jazz. Can Portland survive Rudy Gobert and company's suffocating defensive attack?

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (2-2) vs. Utah Jazz (2-0)
Wednesday, November 4
Vivint Smart Home Arena | 6:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: KGWHD; 620 AM
Portland injury report: Cliff Alexander (Doubtful), Gerald Henderson (Out) | Utah injury report: Dante Exum (Out), Derrick Favors (questionable)
SBN Affiliate: SLC Dunk Blazer's Edge Night 2016

Reports this morning confirm that Derrick Favors is still questionable with the flu for tonight's game.

After defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves in a close contest Monday night, the Portland Trail Blazers are looking for their first winning streak of the season as they head to Salt Lake City to play the 2-1 Utah Jazz.

After a close loss to the surprising Detroit Pistons in their season opener, the Jazz have crushed their last two opponents by an average score of 98-74. Granted, these opponents were the Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers, but any time you hold back-to-back opponents below 80 points, your defense is doing something right.

Through three games, Utah is holding opponents to 37 percent shooting, 5.7 made 3-pointers, and 13.7 assists per game, with a DRtg of 87.1, all league-leading metrics according to basketball-reference.com. Additionally, they are allowing only 38 rebounds per game, good for second in the NBA.

All of this starts with gargantuan center Rudy Gobert. Among the favorites for NBA Defensive Player of the Year headed into the season, Gobert has done nothing to disappoint in the first week of the regular season, blocking 10.2 percent of opponent's two-point attempts while he is on the floor, and altering countless others.

The knowledge that Gobert is lurking in the paint causes opposing guards to think twice before driving, and allows Utah wings to gamble defensively at times, knowing that Gobert is able to nullify a lot of defensive mistakes. Not just a defensive presence, Gobert is also averaging 13.3 rebounds per game, including nearly four per game on the offensive glass.

Even more challenging for opponents is that whatever rebounds Gobert isn't able to clean up, emerging power forward Derrick Favors is, with his 8.3 rebounds per game. Unlike Utah's monster center, Favors is also an explosive offensive player, averaging 21.3 points per game on 52 percent shooting. Favors does most of his scoring within 10 feet, taking 65 percent of his attempts from within that range. He is capable of overpowering most big men in the post and though he doesn't rely on it, is showing the genesis of a decent mid-range jumper.

Talented small forward Gordon Hayward is having a rough start to the season thus far, shooting just 35 percent and averaging 12 points per game as he battles a lingering back injury sustained in the preseason. It's just a contusion, so expect him to round into his typical form soon.

Utah's other two wings that play substantial minutes, Rodney Hood and Alec Burks, are picking up Hayward's slack, however, averaging 15.3 and 14.3 points per game, respectively. Hood, in particular, excels from beyond the arc and also acts as a secondary ball handler in the pick-and-roll, able to either create his own shot or find open teammates. Burks is a large combo guard who is known predominately for his finishing ability around the rim.

With promising youngster Dante Exum out for the season with a torn ACL, many expected Trey Burke to move back into the starting lineup at the point guard spot. Instead, head coach Quinn Snyder has elected to keep Burke with the second unit, where he is able to produce against back up guards. The starting point guard nod has instead gone to Brazilian rookie Raul Neto, who played in Spain last season. Neto is a pass-first, pick-and-roll point guard with a below average jump shot. At 6-foot-1 and 179 pounds, Neto gives up a lot of size to opposing point guards, though he does a good job navigating screens and working to keep his man in front of him.

Neto will have his hands full with Portland point guard Damian Lillard, who poured in 34 points to go along with seven assists and two steals in the Blazers' most recent game against Minnesota. Though the team struggled with consistency for stretches again, the team was able to claw back from a 17-point deficit and hold on to the lead late against a Timberwolves team that wouldn't roll over. Lillard got help from CJ McCollum, who poured in 18 points to go along with four assists, and Al-Farouq Aminu, who had 17 points on 7-12 shooting, along with nine rebounds.

Keys for the Blazers

Pull Gobert/Favors out of the paint: Lillard and McCollum are going to have a nightmare of a time driving the lane if Gobert and Favors are waiting in the shadows to send back every layup. The Blazers are going to need to generate spacing in order to pull Utah's big men out of the key.

Meyers Leonard, in particular, has an opportunity to make a giant impact on this contest by knocking down a couple of jump shots early and forcing either Gobert or Favors (depending on who is guarding him) to come out to contest his jumper. Leonard's struggles from outside in the young season have been well documented, and having a solid offensive performance isn't just going to be good for him mentally, it's going to be a key to a Blazers victory.

Drive on Utah's guards: Should Leonard be able to stretch the floor against Utah, Lillard and McCollum need to take advantage by getting to the rim. Utah allows the fewest made 3-pointers in the league, due to their wings not being relied on to help often on opposing big men. While the 3-pointer is an important part of Portland's attack, without guard penetration to the hoop, Utah will be able to key in on the 3-point line and force the Blazers' backcourt into contested long balls.

Push the tempo: Utah currently plays at the slowest pace in the league, and Portland's roster is stacked with young athletic players. Similar to the Memphis Grizzlies, if the Jazz are allowed to slowly grind you into a pulp, they will. Portland needs to be proactive in getting Utah out of their comfort zone by crashing the boards, having active hands on defense, and getting out in transition at every opportunity.

Box out: Portland's big men are going to need to do the dirty work inside and keep Gobert and Favors off of the boards tonight. Davis is clearly the Blazers' best rebounder from a technique standpoint, but he will need help from Mason Plumlee, Meyers Leonard, and Noah Vonleh. With Plumlee's ability to start the fast break on his own, his success on the defensive glass will be especially key.

Even if the aforementioned big men aren't gobbling up rebounds, as long as they are boxing out their men, it opens up opportunities for Aminu, Harkless, McCollum, and Lillard to snag some rebounds and take off on the break. Pay close attention to how Portland attacks the defensive glass.

The Blazers are going to have their work cut out for them on the first night of back-to-back against two grinding defensive teams (Memphis on Thursday). As long as they are focused on their game plan and don't get sucked in to a grind-it-out contest, we should have an entertaining game in Salt Lake City.