Portland Trail Blazers (0-0) vs. Utah Jazz (0-0)
The Portland Trail Blazers open the 2020-2021 season with a matchup against the Utah Jazz at the Moda Center. The Jazz finished last season with a 44-28 record, tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder for fifth in the Western Conference. Portland finished 35-39 and managed to snag the eighth seed, defeating the Memphis Grizzlies in the new play-in tournament. Both teams lost in the first round of the playoffs and have their sights set on advancing much further this postseason. Utah won two of three meetings between the two teams last season.
Wednesday, December 23 - 7:00 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, or see games all season on fuboTV, follow on ESPN+, or the ESPN/Disney Bundle*
Blazers injuries: Zach Collins (out), Derrick Jones Jr. (day-to-day), Anfernee Simons (day-to-day), Nassir Little (day-to-day)
Jazz injuries: Udoka Azubuike (day-to-day)
SBN Affiliate: SLC Dunk
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What To Watch For
- Continuity vs. Roster Changes. The Utah Jazz enter the 2020-21 season with essentially the same roster as they had last season. Their biggest offseason move was to sign two-time Defensive Player of the Year center Rudy Gobert to a 5-year $205 million contract. Portland, meanwhile, has two new starters in Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr.—three if you count the return of Jusuf Nurkic who missed most of last season. The Blazers are also returning a couple key players from their 2019 Western Conference Finals run in Enes Kanter (acquired from Boston) and Rodney Hood (returning from injury), and signed Harry Giles III from the Sacramento Kings. Juggling new rotations against a team with established roles could be challenging to start the season.
- How much stock to put in preseason play. After a solid 127-102 win to start the preseason the Blazers looked pretty bad. They lost their final three games, giving up over 120 points in each of them. Utah, on the other hand, looked dominant, winning all three of their games by an average margin of more than 17 points. Are Portland’s defensive struggles indicative of what’s to come this season? Does Utah’s play mean they are better prepared to start the season? It’s probably not wise to read too much in to how the teams performed in a condensed preseason, but Wednesday’s matchup could tell us if the preseason play was a preview of things to come or not.
- Lillard vs. Mitchell. The Blazers and Jazz are led by their scoring guards. Damian Lillard is coming off a career year. He averaged career highs of 30 points and 8 assists while shooting a career best 46.3 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three. He was the unanimous NBA Bubble MVP, providing some electric moments in Orlando. Donovan Mitchell was named to his first All-Star team last season, averaging a career best 24 points per game. He took his scoring up a notch in the playoffs with two 50-point games and one 40-point game in Utah’s 7-game series loss. Both guards will want to get their teams off to a quick start in a shortened season.
What Others Are Saying
Jason S. Walker of SLC Dunk noted that the Jazz have increased their three-point shooting in the preseason:
In the glorious sample size of three preseason games, Utah attempted 44.0 threes per night, a number that, if it held, would represent a 25 percent increase in attempts from last season. Even when accounting for the fact that the 52-attempt outing is a major outlier, the Jazz were jacking up triples at a higher rate anyway — 41 in game one of the preseason and 39 in the next.
“Coach has been stressing that to us since we were in the Bubble,” Jordan Clarkson said. “We were just coming into this preseason trying to find an identity and emphasizing that on the offensive end. Those shots are good for us.”
Tim MacMahon of ESPN wonders if the duo of Gobert and Mitchell can be the cornerstone of a contender:
This will require continued development of chemistry between the duo, particularly Mitchell maturing as a pick-and-roll playmaker. They also both need to make significant strides individually. Was Mitchell’s pull-up 3-point shooting efficiency in the playoffs a sign of things to come? Can Gobert make himself a threat on the short roll by making defenses respect the 10- to 12-foot jumper he worked on this offseason?
Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the Jazz are focusing on bringing it defensively every night:
“Every single one of us is trying to be disruptive, be physical and be aggressive on that end,” Gobert said. “… More than anything, it’s our mindset, it’s stepping on every single night with the mindset that we’re just going to dominate defensively.”
There is enough talent on this team, Gobert said, that the offense will ultimately take care of itself. The defense, though, will necessitate continued focus.
“That’s who we want to be as a team. If you want to get a chance to win a championship, that’s the DNA that we need to have,” he said. “And we need to have it every single night.”