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Utah Jazz vs. Portland Trail Blazers Preview

The Blazers go for 9 (losses) in a row against a Jazz team looking to get back on track.

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

While “Jazz Trail Blazers” may evoke thoughts of Charles Mingus and John Coltrane, it is but a mere basketball matchup in November between two teams on back-to-backs each looking to break their own losing skid.

Today’s Utah Jazz are not the team that took the NBA by surprise early last season. After a few trades and an injury to 2nd-year center and DPOY candidate Walker Kessler, they now look much more the part of the tanking team we all expected them to be when they jettisoned Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell in the summer of 2022. Despite the Jazz nearly forcing a third overtime in a close loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday, they fell last night 131-99 to the Los Angeles Lakers in a game Utah never led or even won a single quarter. They miss Kessler, badly.

For Portland’s part, there has been a smidge of good news amidst their 8-game losing streak. Malcolm Brogdon returned to the lineup last night in the Blazers’ 120-107 loss to the Phoenix Suns, going for 19 and 6 dimes after missing a handful of games; Anfernee Simons appears closer to returning as his surgically repaired thumb needs less and less visible protection; and Scoot Henderson broke the land speed record for being sent to, then recalled from a G-League affiliate (2 hours 19 minutes), ostensibly to get a decent practice in while abiding by NBA/G-League affiliation rules. Help is on the way in the coming days and weeks.

Brogdon’s return alone was enough to take the team from “what is going on here?” to “oh, okay, yeah, I can sort of see what you’re trying to do” and that level of competition can win an NBA game on any given night, especially teams that are themselves struggling. Hot take: I think the Blazers win this game. No real reason, just vibes and the fact that even the most brutal losing streaks eventually come to an end.

Utah Jazz (4-10) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (3-11) - Fri. Nov. 17 - 7:00 p.m. Pacific

How to watch on TV: Root Sports, NBA League Pass

Trail Blazers injuries: Anfernee Simons, Scoot Henderson, Robert Williams III (out)

Jazz injuries: Walker Kessler (out)

SBN Affiliate: SLC Dunk

What to Watch For

DeAndre Ayton. He got his tribute video in Phoenix, and he got to talk some smack with former teammate Devin Booker. Dominayton should be PRIMED for a big game, especially since Kessler, one of the best defensive centers in the league, is absent from Utah’s lineup. Credit to Ayton this season: he’s remained remarkably upbeat despite playing on the worst team he’s been a part (except maybe the Igor Kokoskov-coached Suns that won 19 games in 2019), and despite not always been the focal point of an offense that - let’s be honest - could use just about anything.

Middies. The Blazers’ shooting stats could strip paint off a radiator: 29th (of 30 NBA teams) in shooting inside the paint, 29th from corner threes, and DEAD LAST in above-the-break threes. So where’s the offense coming from? The most inefficient shot in basketball, baby: the mid-range, where they rank sixth at 47%. Given the Blazers are missing their best player who happens to be a career 39% shooter from deep - and that their starting center is more likely to fade than dunk - it can’t be too much of a surprise. But one hopes that this is more a function of injuries and playing to the strengths of those still healthy than it is Coach Chauncey Billups trying to relive the glory days of 2004 NBA basketball.

About the Opponent

While it may seem a bit outdated after their shellacking at the hands of the Lakers, Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune wrote about how the Utah Jazz might be turning a corner despite the losses:

“I do think the team’s improving — I think that playing two games against a team like the Suns shows me that we’re improving,” said [Jazz Head Coach Will] Hardy. In terms of the X’s and O’s, the coach reiterated the improved spacing, while also noting that reads have been crisper and communication has improved, while on defense, the activity level has picked up considerably.

Ben Anderson of KSL Sports took fan questions, including about what the Jazz might look like with Kessler back in the lineup:

This is probably the biggest question facing the Jazz coaching staff at the moment. Though the Jazz are just 4-9 on the season, and 2-4 in Kessler’s absence, it’s been easy to see how much better the team has played without him, especially over the last four games. My guess is the coaching staff’s biggest hope is that inserting a willing passer like Keyonte George does enough to fix the spacing to allow both John Collins and Kessler to share frontcourt together, even if it’s only for a few minutes to begin the first and third quarters and to potentially close games depending on matchups.

Jared Koch of Inside the Jazz postulates about a trade bringing Zach LaVine from Chicago to Salk Lake City (Editorial note: I’m not sure why the Jazz would do this):

The fit of LaVine on this current Jazz roster looks a bit murky when you consider contract implications and the long-term timeline, but a cheaper package like this makes the acquisition a bit more appealing. Bringing in LaVine would pair him with former Chicago teammate Lauri Markkanen (and Kris Dunn) and effectively create one of the more exciting offensive tandems in the league. We never quite saw this duo play together while Markkanen was at his All-Star level, so seeing it take place today would likely lead to a ton of buckets scored in Salt Lake City.