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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Utah Jazz Preview

The Blazers’ road swing takes them West.

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Portland Trail Blazers v Utah Jazz Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Portland Trail Blazers (25-39) vs Utah Jazz (40-24)

In the midst of a five-game losing streak, the road doesn’t get any easier for the plummeting Portland Trail Blazers. Tonight they will look to get back in the win column against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City.

Portland’s latest skid has been one of spectacular fashion. Opponents have outscored the Blazers by a combined margin of 156 points during this five-game slide, with the biggest blowout coming in Portland’s last outing — a 124-81 shellacking by the Minnesota Timberwolves. With point guard Anfernee Simons still questionable to play tonight, this makeshift Portland roster could be in for another beatdown if he doesn’t suit up.

After falling 111-103 to the Dallas Mavericks Monday night, the Jazz have lost two of their last three. Still, they are trending in the right direction after posting an 8-1 record during the month of February. The February showing earned Quin Snyder honors for Western Conference Coach of the Month and got the Jazz their mojo back. After injuries caused Utah to free fall in January — losing 11 of 13 games at their lowest point — the team is fully healthy again and sitting pretty as the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference.

Wednesday, March 9 - 7:00 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: Root Sports NW, ESPN, NBA League Pass
Blazers injuries: Damian Lillard (out), Nassir Little (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Eric Bledsoe (out), Didi Louzada (out), Joe Ingles (out), Justise Winslow (out), Anfernee Simons (out)
Jazz injuries: No injuries
SBN Affiliate: SLC Dunk

What To Watch For

B-Will. While the Blazers have been struggling to win games, rookie point guard Brandon Williams has been thriving on offense. Williams popped off for a career-high 27 points and eight rebounds on 7-18 shooting Monday against the Timberwolves. It was the second straight game he scored over 20 points and fifth straight game he scored in double figures. Signed to a two-way contract in late February, Williams is playing to earn a more solidified roster spot for his NBA future. If Simons doesn’t play, Williams will receive the bulk of the point guard minutes and another chance to showcase his talents.

Offensive Shotmaking and Creation. Outside of Williams’ surprise contributions, the Portland offense has been abysmal lately. In four of the last five games, Portland has failed to reach 100 points, while shooting below 40% from the field. Against the Timberwolves, the Blazers shot an unsightly 27.7% from the field and registered only 11 assists. Simons’ return should help resuscitate the offense, but even if he does play, he can’t do it alone if Portland hopes to keep contact with the Jazz. Who else can step up to hit shots, set up others, and create an offensive flow? Josh Hart would be a prime candidate for a bounce-back game after scoring only six points against Minnesota. The Blazers could desperately use a Ben McLemore three-point barrage. Or perhaps there’ll be an explosion out of left field from CJ Elleby or Keon Johnson? Stagnancy is to be expected with this Portland unit. The trick will be to hold the dry spells to a minimum.

The Beaver vs. The Steiffel Tower. A consistent storyline for the Blazers this season has been their lack of size in the front court. Center Drew Eubanks was brought in on a 10-day contract to help remedy that issue. He has provided physicality and toughness to the center position, but still stands at only 6’9’’. Tonight, the former Oregon State Beaver will have his hands full with the 7’1’’ Rudy Gobert. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year doesn’t have a versatile offensive arsenal, but he could dominate this game through the pick-and-roll and offensive glass.

What Others Are Saying

Utah point guard Mike Conley has been in a slump lately, averaging only 9.5 points during the last 10 games. SLC Dunk writer Calvin Chappell writes how the absence of former teammate Joe Ingles — who was traded to Portland in February — could be the cause of Conley’s woes.

I think the loss of Joe Ingles may be affecting Conley’s play. According to cleaningtheglass.com, Utah Jazz lineups this year that included both Conley and Ingles were plus 15.2 points per 100 possessions. Lineups with Conley and no Ingles are only plus 6.6. Conley has learned to share ball-handling duties with Mitchell, Clarkson, Ingles, and others. He found his role as a secondary playmaker who sometimes took over as primary playmaker. Ingles’s role as a secondary playmaker provided balance for a lot of lineups. Now, when Conley and Gobert join the second unit during their second stint in the game, there’s Danuel House instead of Ingles. I think House is a solid player, but he’s not a playmaker. This puts more responsibility on Conley, and I think he’s struggling to find the balance he had before.

The Athletic’s Tim Cato writes how Utah’s last game against the Mavs was a juicy preview of a potential playoff series.

It was a saucy affair, the Mavericks’ 111-103 win against the Utah Jazz on Monday, one that portends an upcoming first-round series that would be dramatic and sassy from start to finish. It’s still far from guaranteed that Dallas faces Utah in the opening round, of course. But it’s a potential series that’s easy to root for, both for the evenly matched competitiveness ripe with strategic intrigue and the sporting dislike the stars obviously have for each other, something that turns any close basketball contest into an even more theatrical show. It’s sports, and we deserve to be entertained.

In a piece for the Salt Lake Tribune, Eric Walden writes that even the Utah players felt a playoff atmosphere during their trash-talk-heavy affair with Dallas.

As Doncic went off in the first half, he made it a point to continuously talk to the Jazz’s bench to rub in his exploits. Other teammates would soon join him.

The result was an intensity and atmosphere not indicative of any old one-of-82 regular season game.

“We might see ‘em — this kinda felt like that,” conceded Donovan Mitchell. “We go up 2-0 in a sense, and then they come back and counter, take care of home court. So now it’s how do we take care of business on [March] 27th?”

It felt telling that Mitchell — who frequently claims to be unsure who or where the Jazz are playing next — knew precisely when Utah’s final meeting this season with the Mavericks is.