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Portland Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz Preview

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The Blazers kick off the second half of the season against the red-hot Jazz.

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NBA: Utah Jazz at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (32-26) vs. Utah Jazz (30-28)

Friday, February 23rd - 6:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: None
Jazz injuries: Ricky Rubio (day-to-day), Thabo Sefolosha (out)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: SLC Dunk

The All-Star break is over, and the final playoff push is in full swing. Portland and Utah are two of eight Western Conference teams with between 24 and 28 losses on the season. Two of those teams will miss the playoffs, so while every game from here on out is important, matchups between the playoff contenders carry a little more significance.

The Blazers are coming off maybe their most impressive win of the season against the Golden State Warriors just over a week ago. However, they lost the previous game at home to the Jazz 115-96. Portland lost earlier this season in Utah 112-103 in overtime.

The Jazz entered the All-Star break on an 11-game winning streak. Their streak — which included wins over Golden State, Toronto, and San Antonio (twice) — has catapulted Utah from nine games under .500 to the cusp of the playoffs.

What to watch for

  • Lillard and Mitchell scoring. Damian Lillard and Utah rookie Donovan Mitchell both had successful All-Star weekends. Lillard tied for the Team Steph scoring high with 21 points in the All-Star game. Mitchell played in the Rising Stars game Friday night and won Saturday’s Slam Dunk Contest. Both guards also lead their respective teams in scoring. Mitchell has averaged 21.3 points during the 11-game winning streak. He leads all rookies with 19.6 points per game on the season and has scored 27 and 28 points, respectively, in his two games against the Blazers. The Jazz will look for some way to slow down Lillard who has had an exceptional February. He’s averaging 32 points per game this month and has scored 50, 39 (against the Jazz) and 44 in his last three games.
  • Rebounding. Portland still ranks near the top of the league in rebounding with 44.9 per game while Utah is toward the bottom of the league with 42.1 per game. However, Utah out-rebounded the Blazers 61-40 in the Jazz’s victory earlier this month. The Jazz pulled down 16 offensive boards and put up 19 second-chance points to Portland’s six. The Blazers will need to do a better job rebounding on both ends in Friday’s matchup.
  • Staying consistent. In the preview of the last Jazz game, akicks asked “Can the Blazers avoid the bad quarter?” He pointed out that Portland had several low-scoring quarters in their previous games. Unfortunately, the answer to his question was a firm “No.” The Blazers scored only 18 and 19 points in the second and third quarters while Utah put up 24 and 38, respectively. Portland played more consistently in their win against the Warriors. They’ll need to maintain that consistency if they want to get a win in Salt Lake City.

What they’re saying

Right before the All-Star break, ESPN’s Zach Lowe took a close look at the Jazz including some trends in their recent winning streak:

[Joe] Ingles, once mocked for looking more like a math teacher than pro basketball player, is in the middle of the best stretch of his life, and now leads the league in 3-point accuracy at 45.7 percent after drilling 44.1 percent last season. His shooting and defense are real, and his playmaking has improved to the level that he functions almost as co-point guard when Rubio or Mitchell is on the bench.

[Rudy] Gobert looks incredible -- almost faster than he was before tweaking his knee in November. He is flying down the lane, and finishing with both hands. Utah in this streak has actually taken fewer 3s than usual, and more shots at the rim -- mitigating their dependence on hot long-range shooting. Gobert is a reason for that. Favors, too.

The Ringer recently had all their NBA writers make predictions about the second half of the season. All seven of their writers had both Portland and Utah making the playoffs. Justin Verrier picked the Jazz as the team that will make the biggest push in the second half:

Justin Verrier: The Jazz may be 10th in the Western Conference standings, but they rate as a top-10 team in the league by point differential and projection systems that take account of context clues like strength of schedule and efficiency. Their offense relies on a 21-year-old with 55 pro games to his name, and the Derrick Favors–Rudy Gobert frontcourt feels like it should be exploited more often than it has been this season, but Utah’s once-Mesozoic-era offense is steadily picking up the pace and the production. Top-10 rankings on both sides of the ball—the two musts on any résumé submitted for “legit” status—by season’s end is very much in play.

Dan Favale of Bleacher Report also wrote about how Utah is poised to make a post-All-Star game run:

Most signs point to the Jazz’s recent dominance being closer to a harbinger of normal, if only because it coincides with Rudy Gobert’s return. They notch a league-best defensive rating when he’s in the lineup, and the Gobert-Derrick Favors-Joe Ingles-Donovan Mitchell quartet has been statistical money for most of the year. Why wouldn’t the Jazz thrive with their best player at full strength?