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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Utah Jazz Preview

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The Blazers return home after an emotional night in Los Angeles.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (22-27) vs. Utah Jazz (32-16)

Saturday, February 1 - 7:30 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Rodney Hood (out), Zach Collins (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Skal Labissiere (out)
Jazz injuries: Tony Bradley (questionable), Mike Conley (questionable)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW
How to stream: Blazer’s Edge Streaming Guide
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: SLC Dunk

The Trail Blazers played through an emotional night Friday as the Los Angeles Lakers honored Kobe Bryant and the others who tragically died last week before and during the game. It was a special evening that went beyond the game of basketball. Portland managed to secure the 127-119 victory—their third win in a row. Damian Lillard led the way again with 48 points, 10 assists, and 9 rebounds. Hassan Whiteside chipped in 30 points (on 14 shots), 12 boards, and 5 blocks.

The Utah Jazz have lost three in a row. The losses have followed a stretch of really excellent play as Utah went 19-2 in the 21 games prior to their current losing streak. They are in the midst of a schedule quirk where their only games from January 30 to February 7 are against division rivals Portland and Denver. The Jazz lost 106-100 in Denver on Thursday and play Denver and Portland at home next week.

What to watch for

  • Utah’s defense. Portland’s offense has been rolling over the past couple weeks. In their last five games the Blazers are averaging 129 points per game with an offensive rating of 122.9 (both league-best marks). If they want to keep things rolling they’ll have to do so against one of the league’s better defensive teams. The Jazz are top ten in both defensive rating and points against. They defend inside well (top ten in points in the paint against) and allow the fewest made threes in the NBA (only 10.5 per game). The defense is anchored by back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. The 7’1” Gobert was recently named to his first All-Star game and could very well win his third consecutive DPOY award. The Blazers will need to find ways to get him out of the paint where he will make it difficult for Lillard and others to finish.
  • Lillard vs. Mitchell. Damian Lillard and Donovan Mitchell scored 34 and 35, respectively, when these two teams matched up a month ago. Mitchell is coming off a poor performance in Denver—only four points on 1 for 12 shooting. That performance aside, Utah’s All-Star guard has been playing well. Over his last nine games (including that 4-point performance) he’s averaging 26.3 points per game while shooting 38 percent on 8.8 threes per game. As well as Mitchell has been playing, he’s got nothing on Lillard. Over the past five games Lillard is averaging an unreal 48.4 points while shooting 56.3 percent from three. He’s done absolutely everything for the Blazers the past couple weeks adding 9.8 assists and 8.2 rebounds. Hopefully, Lillard will have more in the tank after a late, emotional game Friday night.
  • Keep Joe Ingles off the three-point line. When Utah beat Portland in late December, Joe Ingles connected on 6 of his 10 three-point attempts. For the season, Ingles is shooting 40.8 percent on 5.2 attempts. He’s been cold lately, only 5-20 combined in his past four games, but he’s more than capable of hitting multiple threes if Blazer defenders leave him open.

What they’re saying

Tavan Parker of SLC Dunk wrote that Bojan Bogdanovic has been playing like an All-Star:

There are only 19 players in the NBA scoring 21+ points with a 56+% true shooting percentage. Bojan Bogdanovic is one of them, along with teammate Donovan Mitchell. That’s typically an All Star. To get even more specific, players that have average 21+ points, 4+ rebounds, and have a TS% >60 have been an All Star 108 times in league history. Only 12 times have they not. And 7 of those that weren’t were on a team with a losing record. Bojan is doing this on a team that’s playing >.700 basketball right now.

Andy Bailey of Forbes.com discussed Mike Conley’s struggles with the Jazz:

Another obvious issue is the fact that Conley simply cannot hit shots this season. Among the 191 players with 100-plus three-point attempts, Conley’s effective field-goal percentage ranks 180th. His true shooting percentage ranks 178th and is nearly seven points below the league average. That level of inefficiency is difficult for a team to make up, even when it includes effective field-goal percentage stalwarts like Gobert, Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles.

Dan Devine of The Ringer explored how Rudy Gobert affects Utah’s offense:

Everything about the Jazz revolves around Gobert’s ability to either create or erase space. The 7-foot-1 Frenchman leads the league in screen assists, finishes nearly 30 percent of his offensive possessions as the dive man in the pick-and-roll, and ends even more with two or three bodies around him in the paint, opening up opportunities for Utah’s ball handlers to kick the ball out to open shooters; the Jazz are shooting much more accurately from 3-point land with Gobert on the court, thanks in part to how much cleaner the looks get when everybody’s got to worry about a giant getting a shot at the basket that he hits nearly 70 percent of the time.