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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Utah Jazz Preview

The Blazers and Jazz face off with the division title and 3-seed on the line in the final game of the season.

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

Portland Trail Blazers (48-33) vs. Utah Jazz (48-33)

Wednesday, April 11th - 7:30 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Maurice Harkless (out)
Jazz injuries: Thabo Sefolosha (out)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, ESPN
How to stream: WatchESPN, YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV
Radio: 620 AM, ESPN Radio
SBN Affiliate: SLC Dunk

It all comes down to this. After 81 games, the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz have identical records. Whoever wins Wednesday night wins the division and locks up the third overall seed in the Western Conference playoffs. While some of the playoff seeding variables get a little complicated (Eric Griffin breaks them all down nicely here), the Northwest Division title and the 3-seed comes down to this game.

Portland and Utah come into this game on opposite trajectories. The Blazers have lost four in a row and seven of their last 11 games. The Jazz are on a 6-game winning streak after blowing out the Golden State Warriors Tuesday night in Utah. Utah has played good basketball recently, but Portland put an end to an 11-game Jazz winning streak back in February. Of course, Utah defeated Portland to earn the ninth win in that streak.

What to watch for

  • Can the Blazers make any 3’s? In the 11 games since Portland’s 13-game win streak, the Blazers have connected on only 29 percent of their 3-point attempts — the worst mark in the league in that stretch. CJ McCollum may not be worried about his slump, but he has been particularly cold, hitting only 17 of his 64 attempts for a measly 26.5 percent in that stretch. Lillard has actually been slightly worse, however, hitting only 26.2 percent (22 for 84) of his shots from deep. The Blazers will need their star guards to heat back up. It won’t be easy though. The Jazz have allowed the fewest 3-pointers per game (only 8.5) since the All-Star break, and they are coming off a game where they limited the Warriors to five 3’s.
  • A defensive battle. Utah’s defense has been locked in since late January. They’ve given up 100 points in only seven of their last 34 games. Their post-All-Star break defensive rating of 96.5 leads the league by nearly five points. Led by Defensive Player of the Year front-runner Rudy Gobert, the Jazz have the lowest opponent shooting percentage (42.7 percent), rebounds (40), and points in the paint (40.5) since the break. It’s very difficult to score against the Jazz. Portland’s defense has been a strength all season. The Blazers are toward the top of the league in most defensive categories and just held an efficient Denver offense to 88 points. When these teams faced off right after the All-Star break Portland held Utah to 81 points. It would be a surprise if this game turned into a shootout.
  • Utah’s balanced offense. Rookie Donovan Mitchell has led the way offensively for Utah. He’s averaging 20.5 points per game this season and has scored at least 20 in 12 of his last 13 games. Slowing down Mitchell will be a priority for the Blazers. However, the Jazz have gotten offensive contribution throughout their lineup. Joe Ingles, Ricky Rubio, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Jae Crowder, Dante Exum, and Royce O’Neale have each scored 15 or more at least once in the past seven games. Portland will need to stay disciplined on defense.

What they’re saying

John Gonzalez of The Ringer took a look at the way Utah turned their season around:

Since that Pistons game [an OT win on Jan 24], the Jazz are 28-5. They’ve compiled winning streaks of nine and 11 games. Along the way, they beat a coterie of playoff teams including the Raptors, Spurs, Blazers, Pacers, Pelicans (twice), Warriors, and Wolves on the road, and also beat the latter two at at home. Utah has won five in a row and seven of their last 10. Going into their penultimate game of the season Tuesday, they’re 47-33 and have a shot to finish as high as third in the conference. And since Gobert returned in mid-January, the Jazz lead the league in defensive and net ratings.

Over the course of roughly two and a half months, the Jazz have somehow morphed from a team no one worried about to one no one wants to play.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote about a couple different role players for the Jazz. First, he included Royce O’Neale among his Luke Walton All-Stars:

When O’Neale sees a defender running at him, he doesn’t waste time with a pump fake. He just goes. Once on the move, he has a knack for passing one step ahead of defenses. He’s especially comfortable walking the baseline tightrope, and slinging kickout passes -- a piece of hoops art O’Neale says he learned from watching Ricky Rubio.

Lowe also discussed Dante Exum in his Ten things I like and don’t like article:

Utah has scored 1.2 points possessions anytime Exum drives and shoots, or dishes to a teammate who shoots after one or zero dribbles, per Second Spectrum -- a mark that ranks 14th among 300-plus who have recorded at least 50 drives.

Quin Snyder has even braved resting Ricky Rubio and Mitchell together, and letting some of his secondary ball-handlers -- including Exum -- run the show. Snyder should and probably will mothball those groups during the playoffs, but they have managed well in limited time.

Exum raises Utah’s defensive ceiling even higher -- into historic territory. He is the rare guard who provides legitimate rim protection. If he can hit corner 3-pointers consistently, Utah has a dangerous new postseason ingredient.