The Portland Trail Blazers are faced with one of their most pivotal matchups of the season as they get ready to play host to the Utah Jazz tonight. The 22-25 Blazers are 1.5 games back from the 25-25 Jazz in the Western Conference standings.
The Jazz own a 9-16 record on the road. Despite that, they bested the Blazers at the Moda Center in a 118-113 tooth-and-nail battle on November 19th. Portland did get revenge two weeks later in a 116-111 victory in Utah on December 3rd
Blazers vs. Jazz — Wednesday, Jan. 25, 7:00 p.m. PT
How to Watch: Root Sports Plus, NBA League Pass
Blazers Injuries: Justise Winslow (out), Ibou Badji (out)
Jazz Injuries: Kelly Olynyk (out)
SBN Affiliate: SLC Dunk
What to Watch For:
- Start Well: Utah is among the slowest starting teams in the NBA on the road. They rank 27th across the association in first quarter field goal percentage at 44.5 percent. They only average 3.6 free throw attempts in the first 12 minutes of play. They take the third-most three-point attempts at the tenth-worst percentage. This is a recipe for success. Portland must play up beyond the arc, stay disciplined and establish an early lead.
- Contain Lauri Markkanen: The Finnish star is on a tear. Over his last 15 games, he is averaging 29.7 points per game on an otherworldly 50.7 percent from the field, 44.2 percent from three-point land, and 91.7 percent from the free throw line. He is currently in the midst of a five-game double-double streak — his longest of the season. In the selfsame 15-game stretch, he’s had five outings where he’s attempted 10 or more three-pointers, shooting 40 percent or better in four out of those five. Markkanen does not lack confidence in letting it fly. At 7-foot tall, he won’t be rejected. The eye test indicates that Markkanen favors catching and shooting from outside. Perhaps a defense catered around shading him to one side of the court will entice the combo forward to put the ball on the floor. This strategy was implemented to perfection against James Harden during his latter years with the Houston Rockets and his first season with the Brooklyn Nets. In the case of Markkanen, playing him in a quasi-box-and-one where his defender stays on one side of his hip could work wonders in frustrating the soon-to-be first time NBA All Star.
- Respect the “Others”: Jordan Clarkson, Malik Beasley, Walker Kessler, Jarred Vanderbilt and Collin Sexton are among the Jazz’s ensemble cast. They all bring unique skillsets to the table. What separates Utah from a team like the Dallas Mavericks, for example, is their adroitness in slicing to the basket. Much of Portland’s success against the Mavericks came by way of neutralizing their high-usage-rate point guard Luka Doncic, letting his cast of characters bomb away from distance. Utah has a handful of players that will take it to the chest of Drew Eubanks and Jusuf Nurkic in the paint. Just ask Talen Horton-Tucker about these two teams’ first matchup. A contain defense on Markkanen will free up Clarkson and company to create their own shot. This must be limited to the best of the Blazers’ ability.
What Others are Saying:
Sarah Todd of Deseret News draws the connection between Jordan Clarkson’s age and experience in accordance with his standout play thus far:
Playing more minutes than he has at any other point in his NBA career, Clarkson is maintaining his efficiency from every area of the court but has also become one of the Jazz’s main facilitators, averaging more than four assists per game, and is grabbing a career-high-tying four rebounds per game.
So where was this player earlier in his career? Why is it that at 30 years old Clarkson is only now becoming the player he is supposed to be?
Well, to be perfectly honest, part of it is just timing.
NBA.com put the news out about a cool opportunity for Blazers fans attending tonight’s game:
On Wednesday, January 25, the Portland Trail Blazers take on the Utah Jazz and are collaborating with Dapper Labs, creators of NBA Top Shot, to bring all fans in attendance at Moda Center the opportunity to obtain a free digital collectible. The exclusive digital collectible will feature franchise all-time leading scorer, Damian Lillard, and will only be accessible to fans attending the game.
To claim the collectible, fans will scan QR codes posted throughout the arena and store their collectible in a Dapper Wallet, with each collectible individually serial numbered. Unique in the sports digital collectible space, the Damian Lillard collectible will utilize LAVA, an industry-leading Fan Engagement Platform supporting Web3, to provide additional real-life experiences to season ticket holders. To further expand the fan experience and provide real life benefits to the digital collectible, the additional experiences include access to unique in-arena photo opportunities and exclusive in-arena discounts. The Damian Lillard digital collectible will only be available to hold in your Dapper Wallet, selling and trading of the collectible is not available.