Portland Trail Blazers (13-20) vs. Utah Jazz (24-9)
The Portland Trail Blazers come into this game shorthanded and, well, just short. Facing Rudy Gobert without a recognizable center is not ideal as the team’s Covid-19 outbreak continues to sideline seven players and two coaches, with CJ also out recovering from a collapsed lung. On Monday, Portland was on the small side of a 132-117 drubbing by the Dallas Mavericks.
The Utah Jazz on the other hand are in the rarified air of third place in the West, slightly disappointed that they aren’t higher in the standings. Winners of 12 of their last 14, the Jazz are a very good team playing good basketball with perhaps another gear they haven’t used yet kept in reserve. Their latest effort was a 110-104 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
Wednesday, December 29 - 7:00 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: ROOT Sports, NBA League Pass
Blazers injuries: CJ McCollum (out), Cody Zeller (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Robert Covington (out), Ben McLemore (out), Dennis Smith Jr. (out), Trendon Watford (out), Keljin Blevins (out) Jazz injuries: Donovan Mitchell (out), Udoka Azubuike (out), Eric Paschall (out)
SBN Affiliate: SLC Dunk
What To Watch For
Wuthering Heights. The Blazers don’t have a single seven footer on the roster, and without Jusuf Nurkić and Cody Zeller available Portland doesn’t get taller than 6’8”. The Jazz have three seven footers on the books, although mercifully Azubuike won’t take part in this one. That leaves the Blazers to “only” have to look up to Rudy Gobert and our old friend Hassan Whiteside, quite the tall order. How will the Blazers deal with the huge height disadvantage? Not well if Monday’s pasting at the hands of Kristaps Porziņģis and the Dallas Mavericks is anything to go by.
Pick your poison. Utah likes to set up shooters on the perimeter and let Gobert or Whiteside fight for position under the basket. If opponents try to chase shooters off the three point line, that leaves gaps for penetration, often resulting in an easy pass to a wide open center for a dunk. If teams try to take away the driving lanes, their array of shooters are more than capable of drilling the open three. The dilemma for opposing teams is real as evidenced by Utah’s NBA-leading offensive rating (116.6) and efficiency (56.5%). In will take an inspired effort from the Blazers if they don’t want to come up short.
Fresh faces. With so many players missing, Portland has brought in reinforcements. Anything is possible of course, especially with Donovan Mitchell out, but let’s face it. Odds are pretty good that the likes of Cameron McGriff, Brandon Williams, Jarron Cumberland and Reggie Perry will be getting playing time in this one. Enjoy it! It’s a rare opportunity to see just how talented guys are who can’t normally break into the NBA. These guys want to make the most of their opportunity, so their energy and effort is exciting — even if the score isn’t what we might want it to be.
What Others Are Saying
Marc J. Spears of the Undefeated writes that Rudy Gobert has come a very, very long way.
Growing up as a Black kid, and sometimes in a white family, there were some challenging times. When I was a kid, my mom told me that when I was born, some family members didn’t want my mom to bring me. They didn’t want my mom to come to visit their house because she had a Black baby. And for me just now being able to look back and see all the things that happened, I’m just even prouder of my mom and how she overcame all the challenges that she had to face in her life. And at the same time, she always protected me from all of that negativity, and she always made sure I had great values as a human being.
While it has slipped a bit since the article quoted was published, Utah’s offensive rating is in elite territory according to James Piercey of The Jay Notes.
Quin Snyder realizes that part of the value of shooting a high volume of 3s comes from the easy dunk and layup attempts the strategy generates. The Jazz generally surround a conventional big with 4 knockdown shooters that opposing defenses are forced to respect. They’re encouraged to shoot even contested 3s, because they’re capable of making them. However, the defenses’ urgent need to defend those shots creates a less contested paint for either of Rudy Gobert or Hassan Whiteside out of pick-and-rolls. It also creates easy driving lanes for Donovan Mitchell.
Joe Ingles! Jake Layman! The kerfuffle you didn’t know had happened, gloriously broken down by James Hansen of SLC Dunk.