On Saturday, February 1st the Portland Trail Blazers will take on the Utah Jazz at the Moda Center. Portland has an intervening game with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday, but the quality of opponent—plus the obvious motivation for the Lakers to win on a night when a franchise legend is remembered—probably puts that one in the loss column. The Utah game is not only possible to win, but would be an important barometer for the Blazers.
Portland and Utah are separated by 11.5 games in the standings. Barring weirdness, there’s no chance the Blazers will overtake them in the standings. The game has little significance head-to-head.
Still, Portland is coming off two straight wins at home against quality opponents: the Indiana Pacers and the Houston Rockets. Those victories came near the start of an incredibly tough stretch in which the Blazers face eight serious playoffs-bound teams in nine games. This two-week sojourn could keep them afloat in the West or sink them into a well so deep they’d have a hard time emerging.
Even chalking up the presumed loss in L.A., a victory on Saturday would put Portland at 3-2 to start the nasty nine. At worst they’d come out 3-6. If they could manage to beat the San Antonio Spurs or Miami Heat at home, they’d finish no worse than 4-5.
Keeping even during their hardest half-month of the season would speak well of the Blazers. They could claim with confidence that an upward trajectory was just around the corner. If everything went perfectly, they might even be able to set their sights on the fifth seed in the West, quite possibly facing off against these same Utah Jazz.
A loss, on the other hand, would open up the possibility of a 2-7 stretch, upwardly mobile to 3-6. Those numbers look much worse as ceilings than floors.
For the impact on the standings and their own confidence, the Blazers need to come with a strong effort on Saturday night, notching a victory against a team that’s probably not going to let them score 125+ the way the Pacers and Rockets did. If they can do that, Portland fans can begin to talk about a possible turn-around, dreaming about seeds instead of ping-pong balls come April.
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