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Utah Jazz at Portland Trail Blazers Preview

Portland kicks off five in row at Moda Center against the Jazz.

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Portland Trail Blazers v Utah Jazz Photo by Chris Nicoll/NBAE via Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers are able to look at the schedule ahead and see something they haven’t see for a long time: lots of home games. Eight of their next nine games will be held at the Moda Center. While they will not be fancied in all of them there are definitely some winnable games between now and the end of the year. Thursday night’s matchup is one of them. In fact, the Blazers are -148 favorites on DraftKings as of this writing, the first time they’ve been favorites all season.

After an encouraging rebuilding season in 2022-23, The Utah Jazz feel that they might be regressing a bit. Certainly some trades for the future and injuries have depleted the talent pool, but there is a general feeling that a bigger spark should be evident by now and just isn’t. Maybe Wednesday night will be the start of something though as they unexpectedly beat the New York Knicks 117-113. The Blazers will have the rest advantage as the Jazz will have to travel to Portland for the second game of a home-away back-to-back.

Utah Jazz (7-16) at Portland Trail Blazers (6-16) - Thursday, Dec. 14 - 7:00 p.m. Pacific

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

Trail Blazers injuries: Robert Williams III (out), Ish Wainright (out), Jerami Grant (out), Deandre Ayton (questionable), Malcolm Brogdon (questionable)

Jazz injuries: Jordan Clarkson (out), Luka Samanic (questionable), John Collins (questionable), Keyonte George (questionable)

SBNation Affiliate: SLC Dunk

Blazer’s Edge Reader Questions

WonReasely80:

Even though the Jazz got a head start, is it crazy to say that the Blazers are already further along on their respective rebuild?

A lot depends on how much potential you see in both teams’ respective young players. There’s a lot to be excited about when you look at Sharpe and Scoot. At 19 and 20 years old those two could be a rock solid foundation for the next 10 years. Of course there are no guarantees, and Scoot’s slow start put a lot doubts in people’s minds. On the Utah side, Keyonte George, Walker Kessler and Taylor Hendrick are only three examples of the young talent the Jazz have high hopes for. In my mind the Blazers duo have a higher ceiling than any two of the Jazz youngsters. However, I’d also say the Jazz have a greater number of quality young players and assets. Utah has a formidable stack of picks and swaps starting with the 2025 draft, while most of the picks Portland acquired are for later seasons. If Utah wants to start winning as soon as possible I think they could do it faster than the Blazers. A key for both teams is whether they will move on from already established players like Jerami Grant and Lauri Markkanen. Doing so will collect more future assets and perhaps raises the long-term ceiling, but it certainly would have a negative impact on the short term potential.

What To Watch For

  • Lauri Markkanen. After missing eight games with a hamstring injury, Markkanen returned and scored 23 points with eight boards in less than 25 minutes. He was on a minutes restriction, and may still be against the Blazers, but that didn’t stop him from having eye catching numbers. Defending him will be a tough but necessary task if the Blazers are to come out on top.
  • Injuries. Both teams will be short-handed, with key players listed as out or questionable as of Wednesday evening. Both teams will be missing quality players, but the team that is able to play more of their questionable list might have the inside track.

What Others Are Saying

It wasn’t supposed to be quite like this according to Tony Jones of The Athletic (subscription required).

Last season went mostly as planned because the Jazz were so competitive for much of the season. Even when they eased off the gas pedal of trying to win games, Hardy’s team was much better than imagined. Last year’s team wasn’t a world beater, but Mike Conley was a galvanizing force, the Jazz had useful veterans and Markkanen’s runway to stardom was a smooth one.

A lot of that isn’t around this season. That Markkanen has played at a star level is a good thing. That Keyonte George is playing all the minutes he can handle and appears to have a high ceiling is a good thing. But this season is proving that not all rebuilds have the same road. And now the Jazz are battling the formidable opponent of habitual losing, a battle that was largely unexpected at the start of this season.

Sarah Todd of Deseret News writes the Jazz are pretty bad. And how.

The Jazz have the 26th-ranked offense and 26th-ranked defense in the NBA. During the last 10 games, the Jazz have allowed the sixth-best opponent 3-point percentage (38.8%), they allow the sixth-most points of all NBA teams and they are the second-most blocked team in the league, with opponents averaging 6.7 blocks per game.

But none of those compare to the Jazz’s failings when it comes to taking care of the ball and defending in transition.

James Hansen at SLC Dunk looks at just how hard Utah might be willing to drive the tank.

This Jazz season has not started the same as the 2022-23 season, the Jazz are losing in a big way while resting players, just like they did at the end of last season. The only difference is they’re starting earlier. What also makes this season interesting is the fact that the Jazz have to be in the bottom ten this season to keep their pick in the 2024 draft, otherwise it goes to the Thunder. With how the Jazz are resting players, they look like they want to keep this pick, and they might never actually send it to the Thunder at all. If it doesn’t convey this season, it will be top ten protected in 2025 once again. If it doesn’t convey then? It will be top-8 protected in 2026. At that point, if it doesn’t convey to the Thunder, the Jazz keep the pick. Would the Jazz be ballsy enough to never actually give the pick to the Thunder? Well, this season, they’ve now rested Lauri Markkanen for eight games with a hamstring injury, and the team has lost 5 of their last 6. Jordan Clarkson is now out for at least two weeks with a bone bruise, and all this time Keyonte George and Taylor Hendricks have been getting more and more minutes.