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Portland Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz Preview

The Blazers try to bounce back against the Jazz on the second night of a back-to-back.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (38-39) at Utah Jazz (47-30)

April 4, 2017, 6:00 PST
Watch: CSN NW; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Jusuf Nurkić (out), Ed Davis (out), Festus Ezeli (out)
Jazz injuries: Derrick Favors (out), George Hill (questionable), Raul Neto (questionable)
SBN Affiliate: SLC Dunk

One night after falling a single point short against the Karl-Anthony Towns, the road doesn’t get any easier for the Portland Trail Blazers, who travel to Utah to take on Rudy Gobert and the Jazz.

Utah, after a slow 7-8 start to the season, has played up to the expectations that made them a popular offseason pick by many to take a significant leap this year. The team, led by Gobert, has the third stingiest defense in the league and is currently holding on to fourth place—and first round home court advantage—over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Just check out Gobert’s numbers—14 points on 66 percent shooting, 13 rebounds, nearly 3 blocks, and a PER of 23.2. And he’s not alone; small forward Gordon Hayward has emerged as an elite offensive player, putting up 22 points per game on 38 percent shooting from the 3-point line. Hayward has developed into a complete player capable of scoring from anywhere on the court and is quite difficult to defend, as he is very effective in the mid-range area.

Joining Hayward on the offensive attack is athletic shooting guard Rodney Hood, who puts up 13 points per game. With point guard George Hill (16 points per game) likely out tonight, Utah will again turn to youngster Dante Exum, now fully recovered from his ACL tear 18 months ago.

With big man Derrick Favors having an injury-plagued season and being out of action against Portland tonight, Utah again turns to veteran Boris Diaw, whom they acquired during the offseason to bolster their bench. Diaw doesn’t do much in terms of scoring, but is a solid fundamental player who passes very well out of the high post.

Utah features several solid bench players who see significant playing time, including Joe Johnson, Joe Ingles, Trey Lyles, and Alec Burks. With their injury issues this season—Burks missed significant time, in addition to the continued injuries that have plagued Hill and Favors—Utah’s bench has stepped up in a big way.

The Jazz play the closest thing to a throwback game, relying on their defense and playing the slowest pace in the league. Points come at a premium against the Jazz and, accordingly, possessions are to be valued when playing against them. Taking care of the basketball, running your offense as designed, and avoiding the easy pitfalls of taking turns going one-on-one are critical to matching up against the Jazz.

For Portland, tonight is the second consecutive game where they’ll match up against an elite center without Jusuf Nurkić. Against Minnesota, Terry Stotts chose to go small for significant stretches—capping Meyers Leonard’s minutes at 12 despite giving him the start and even choosing to go with Al-Farouq Aminu at center over him for stretches in the second half. To be fair, Leonard is battling injuries, but it will be difficult for Vonleh and especially Aminu to match up with someone as long as Gobert.

Unfortunately for Portland, with Nurkić currently on the mend, their game plan for the most part has returned to a perimeter-oriented attack focused on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Of course, they are an elite backcourt, but not having a consistent interior presence to count on will likely make life difficult on them in a game that will already see Utah’s guards pressuring heavily on the perimeter, knowing that the Stifle Tower is lurking behind them.