As we look forward to this next NBA season, it’s safe to say that the Portland Trail Blazers will have their hands full in this new Western Conference. Though the Blazers won’t go down without a fight, it’s unlikely that Portland will match up evenly with power house teams like the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets. But the Phoenix Suns won’t be much of a dogfight either. If you’re looking for a back-and-forth series, try the Blazers and the Utah Jazz, who share similarities.
Last season, Portland and Utah split their season series 2-2. It was an unexpected breakthrough season for the Jazz, thanks to rookie Donovan Mitchell, and Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. With Mitchell and Gobert standing out as the main threats on both offense and defense, they try to utilize the pick and roll game. Whether a pass goes inside off the roll to Gobert, or Mitchell settles for a long 2, they make it work- much like Portland who ranked 1st in screen assists per game.
Utah hasn’t been able to establish themselves as a real threat from deep. Only 31.2% of their points came from the three-ball. So, if Portland plans on stopping their offense, they’ll need to focus on defending the pick and roll and forcing Utah to send up prayers behind the arc.
Utah is also crafty on defense. The team finished off their season ranking 4th in the NBA for steal averages, while maintaining a 2nd-best leaguewide defensive rating of 101.6. Oddly enough, with as many steals as the team got, they were only 23rd in fast break points. So, if they were to improve on that, they would be much harder to stop on the break against a slow transitioning team like Portland.
Portland will need to stay creative on offense against Utah. With Rudy Gobert defending the paint, nothing inside will be easy to come by. Scoring in the paint against Utah will require big guys like Jusuf Nurkic and Meyers Leonard to bring Gobert to the top of the key. This can happen by setting strong picks for the guards or the bigs developing a consistent mid-range jumper. With constant movement in and out of the paint, Portland can beat Utah at their own game.
As Portland works on a high three-point percentage, they can hurt Utah behind the arc. The addition of Seth Curry could be vital. If he can come off the bench and shoot like he did two seasons ago, then Portland will have an advantage on offense. This also goes along with other secondary guys like Jake Layman and Gary Trent Jr. who can add a deep threat. Ultimately, Portland’s bench will have to provide both shooting and scoring.
The upcoming NBA season will be interesting all around, but Trail Blazer fans should especially look forward to watching the season series between Utah and Portland. Every game should be a close battle between these two evenly-matched and great competitors.
Blazer’s Edge readers, please welcome Alycia E. as a new author at Blazer’s Edge. She’s headed to university in the fall to major in journalism and will provide articles and analysis for us throughout the year.