(51-28, No. 4 in the West)
Saturday, April 11
Moda Center; Portland, OR | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: KGWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: | Out for the Jazz: Alec Burks, Trey Burke (day-to-day)
SBN Affiliate: SLC Dunk | Timmay's Viewing Guide
The Blazers host the Utah Jazz tonight in the fourth and final meeting between the two teams this season.
Portland coach Terry Stotts has opted to give All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge the night off, placing him in street clothes alongside guard Wesley Matthews, forward Dorell Wright and wing Arron Afflalo, who will be out 1-2 weeks after straining his shoulder Thursday night against the Warriors.
The Jazz come into tonight's game on the second half of a back-to-back after dropping a home game to the Grizzlies last night. Down three points with 0.1 seconds left and with possession, Utah forward Gordon Hayward was sent to the free throw line after he was fouled attempting a three-pointer. He sunk the first two free throws but missed the third, and the Jazz were sent packing with a 1-point loss to Memphis.
As you've no doubt heard by now, Utah has turned its season around since the All-Star break and has been one of the league's most effective defensive teams behind the emergence of center Rudy Gobert. The second-year French big man was inserted into the starting lineup after center Enes Kanter was shipped to the Thunder at the trade deadline, and has since become one of the best rim protectors in the NBA.
Over their last five games, the Jazz have had the fourth-best Defensive Rating in the league, according to NBA.com. Their length and youthful energy allow them to play the passing lanes as well as any team, and points inside are difficult to come by. Utah has a bit of a tendency to foul and send opposing teams to the line often, but the Jazz also seal off the perimeter and generally make running any sort of fluid offense a tough task against them.
Utah is less effective on the other side of the ball, playing at one of the slowest paces in the league but still struggling mightily with turnovers lately. The Jazz are an average team shooting the ball both inside and out, which, coupled with their pace, makes them more reliant on an overwhelming defensive effort.
Hayward, tired as he may be with his team's success resting squarely on his shoulders, scored 27 points last night against Memphis on 8-for-16 shooting, also drawing 12 foul shots but missing three, the last of which the most untimely and unfortunate of the trio. He's struggled with his jumper and with his finishing inside recently, but over the last five games, Hayward's drilled 41.2 percent of his threes. He's cooled off a bit over the stretch run of the season, but he's averaged 23.5 points on 58.6 percent shooting in two games against the Blazers this year.
Believe it or not, guard Rodney Hood has been getting up more attempts than Hayward the last several games. He's a great finisher, a solid jumpshooter and has the potential to light up the scoreboard from outside, though Hood's struggled from deep the last few games.
Starting point guard Dante Exum was quiet last night against the Grizzlies, and he is indeed more of a set-up guy at this point in his career as opposed to a scorer. Watch for him to make at least a few heady plays tonight, though, as the Australian rookie has shown signs of improvement with his decision-making with the ball.
Gobert and power forward Derrick Favors -- who is consistently regarded as one of the league's most underrated talents -- pack a lot of scoring punch down low but have combined to produce about 26 points per game the last five. Gobert is an efficient finisher inside and Favors is generally solid inside and out to about 15 or 20 feet, but he's been average at converting the last handful of games, leading up to a 5-point, 2-for-10 performance last night in the loss to Memphis.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder goes about nine-deep with his playing rotation, but he picks and chooses which players at the end of the bench to use depending on the game and its specific matchups. Guard Trey Burke usually leads the way as sixth-man, but he's had back issues recently and may not suit up tonight.
Forwards Trevor Booker and Joe Ingles will likely get plenty of burn tonight off the bench. Booker has been abysmal shooting the ball recently, but Ingles has poured in 51.7 percent of his field goals the last five games and 63.2 percent of his threes -- of which he's attempted 3.8 a night in that span. Guards Bryce Cotton and Elijah Millsap, along with forwards Jack Cooley, Jeremy Evans and Chris Johnson could all get significant minutes tonight, but none of the five reserves has been particularly impactful lately.
With the fourth seed sown up and home court advantage in the first round still a mathematical possibility but an unattainable goal in practicality considering the team's health, the Blazers come into tonight's game with the Jazz down two more starters in Aldridge and Afflalo. Like Monday's game against the Nets when Stotts left Aldridge, forward Nicolas Batum and center Chris Kaman back in Portland to rest, tonight's meeting with Utah will offer plenty of opportunities for otherwise end-of-bench players to get some good run in before the regular season ends on Wednesday.
Predicting Stotts' starting lineup for tonight would be a fool's errand, as various injuries to key contributors throughout the year have forced him into starting several different players at different times. Batum, point guard Damian Lillard and center Robin Lopez will all get the start, but who fills in for Afflalo and Aldridge tonight is anybody's guess.
On Monday, guard CJ McCollum started in place of Batum, and forward Meyers Leonard filled in for Aldridge. Without McCollum's scoring off the bench, though, Portland's reserves were unable to muster up much offense. That was without Kaman suited up, however, so the Blazers could ostensibly handle a bit less of McCollum's scoring in the second unit tonight with the soon-to-be 33-year-old big man healthy and available. Other candidates to start include wing Allen Crabbe, guard Alonzo Gee and big man Joel Freeland.
Either way, Stotts' rotation tonight should feature Lillard, Batum, Lopez, Kaman, McCollum, Freeland, Leonard, point guard Steve Blake and a side of Crabbe. Gee and point guard Tim Frazier will likely play but only get big minutes should the game turn into a rout for either team.
Expect most of Portland's offense tonight to originate from Lillard and McCollum, who's put up the third-most field goal attempts for the team the last five games, sinking 54 percent of his shots and 37.5 percent of his threes over that stretch. Lillard's hit almost half his field goals in three games against the Jazz this year but they've held him to 19.7 percent shooting from outside. Expect an aggressive Lillard tonight, as he's averaged 22.3 points per game against Utah this year even though his shooting from deep has been hampered.
Neither Kaman nor Lopez have managed to score well against the Jazz this year, and Leonard has struggled as well in limited minutes. The Blazers, like many teams, have difficulty running their offense against Utah's pace and superb defense. Without Aldridge in uniform, the Jazz can really focus down on Portland's wings, which will spell trouble tonight for the home team unless the ball is moving well consistently.
The matchup between the Blazers and Utah pits the two best rebounding teams in the NBA the last five games against each other. Gobert and Favors form one of the best rebounding frontcourts in the league, particularly on the offensive end. Booker, Hood and Hayward all play a big role for Utah on the glass. Leonard, Kaman and Freeland all have better rebounding percentages the last five games than Aldridge and Lopez, but Aldridge will certainly be missed, especially on the defensive side. Portland's frontcourt will absolutely have its hands full tonight with Favors and Gobert, so Lopez will need to take up space and Batum will have to swoop in from the wings to help the Blazers on the boards. Things could get ugly if any of Portland's bigs gets into foul trouble at any point.
All factors considered, tonight's game seems like a solid opportunity for Stotts to rest Aldridge and limit the minutes of some of his other key players as the team heads into the postseason with less-than-optimal health. The fourth seed is zipped up, home court advantage is essentially a pipe-dream and the Blazers have been banged-up all season. Tonight's game is certainly not a guaranteed loss -- it's at the Moda Center, Utah is a young, developing team and Lillard is still, well, Lillard -- but the odds are definitely stacked against Portland without multiple starters available.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter
Sam Tongue's Key Matchup: