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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Utah Jazz Game Preview

2016-17 Opening Night is here for the Portland Trail Blazers, as they take on the Utah Jazz at the Moda Center. Tune in to KGW at 7:00 PDT for coverage.

NBA: Preseason-Utah Jazz at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (0-0) vs. Utah Jazz (0-0)

Oct. 25, 2016, 7:00 PDT. Moda Center; Portland, Ore.

Watch: KGWHD; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM

Blazers injuries: Festus Ezeli (out); Jazz injuries: Boris Diaw (day-to-day), Gordon Hayward (out), Derrick Favors (out), Alec Burks (out)

SBN Affiliate: SLC Dunk

After months of waiting, the Portland Trail Blazers kick off the 2016-17 regular season at the Moda Center tonight against the Utah Jazz. Considered by many to be the team most likely to make a big jump in relevance this year, the Jazz are starting off the season with the same issues that plagued them last year: injuries. The Jazz will be without the services of versatile small forward Gordon Hayward (hand) and guard Alec Burks (leg) tonight. Not only that, but star power forward Derrick Favors will also miss the season opener with an injured knee that kept him out of the final five games of the preseason.

Utah will have difficulty scoring the ball with Favors and Hayward in street clothes, but they still have a solid defensive system that starts with monster center Rudy Gobert. Far from last season’s point-guard-by-committee strategy, Utah features new starter George Hill, a heady veteran and excellent floor general, and the explosive Dante Exum, now recovered from an ACL tear that caused him to miss last season.

Without Hayward, Utah will feature Rodney Hood and newly acquired veteran Joe Johnson on the wings. Both players are able to hit from the midrange out, and Hood is considered a plus defender. Expect Boris Diaw to take Favors’ place in the starting lineup. Diaw’s effectiveness has diminished as he has gotten older, but he still is a solid passer and scorer out of the post.

The Jazz have a solid bench unit, even with Johnson and Diaw being inserted into the starting lineup. Young power forward Trey Lyles is an excellent pick-and-pop option with 3-point range and small forward Joe Ingles is a solid 3-and-D player who also possesses some finishing skill around the basket.

Portland played Utah twice in the preseason, and both contests featured what will be the Blazers’ opening night lineup of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Mason Plumlee. Damian Lillard saw success against Utah this preseason, averaging 21.5 points per game, and made a point to come off of screens and blow by Gobert for layups on multiple occasions.

Key for Portland will be pushing the tempo when the opportunity presents itself and keeping their bigs out of foul trouble, an issue this preseason. Utah played at the slowest pace in the league last season, and Johnson and Hill don’t exactly scream run and gun. The Jazz try to grind out possessions and suffocate their opponent on the defensive end. Portland averaged 93 points in their two matchups against Utah this preseason while putting up 105 points per game in their other five contests.

Lillard will need help carrying the load on offense. While McCollum is the obvious choice to step up, don’t be surprised to see Evan Turner find success probing the midrange against Utah’s defense, which excels in the paint and against the 3-pointer but tends to allow the 18-foot jump shot.