The Portland Trail Blazers come into their game against the Utah Jazz on Saturday playing for their third win in a row for the first time since November 1. A win would guarantee them a winning road trip, something that seemed impossible two weeks ago. The Blazers aren’t playing 48 minutes of stellar basketball every night, but they’ve defended and shot the three ball well for the most part. When you can do that you can win some games.
The Jazz were supposed to be farther along on their rebuilding curve than the Blazers, but so far it hadn’t worked out that way. They find themselves In 13th place in the West, just below the Blazers who are in 12th. They’ve only won twice in their last eight games, and they’ve lost their last two against the Memphis Grizzlies and the Minnesota Timberwolves. They also lost to the Blazers in Portland on November 22 by the score of 121-105, when the Blazers snapped their eight game losing streak.
Portland Trail Blazers (6-12) vs. Utah Jazz (6-13) - Saturday. Dec. 2 - 6:30 p.m. Pacific
How to watch on TV: Root Sports, NBA League Pass
Trail Blazers injuries: Anfernee Simons (out), Robert Williams III (out), Ish Wainright (out)
Jazz injuries: Lauri Markkanen (out), Jordan Clarkson (out), Kris Dunn (questionable), Kelly Olynyk (questionable)
SBNation Affiliate: SLC Dunk
Blazer’s Edge Reader Questions
OK, Utah question... are they trying to win this year? I can’t tell. They don’t have their pick (they do, but top 10 protected), they traded for John Collins and play 30-something Clarkson and Olynyk big minutes, so they’re trying to be good! But then they start Keyonte George, who looks about as impactful as year 2 Anfernee Simons. Why?
By all accounts they are trying to win. Injuries have certainly been a factor, but that alone can’t explain the 6-13 start. Most of the roster with the possible exception of Markkanen has underperformed in more games than not. You are right to point out Keyonte George. Utah was extremely high on him on draft night and have been bound and determined to have him run the show as quickly as possible. Injury/unavailability of Jordan Clarkson and Kris Dunn has contributed to his role too. He handles the ball reasonably well and usually isn’t a turnover machine, but his efficiency has been fair to poor as often as not. All of the faith the Jazz are placing in him may pay off in the long run, but if the losses keep mounting it’s going to be in increasingly difficult situation for George and the Jazz.
With the Blazers and Jazz tied with 6 wins is it too early to count this as a must lose game for lottery position?
It’s way too early. As azblaze points out above Utah doesn’t have a pick unless it falls in the top 10. Far better to win as much as they can, get their young guys at least play-in experience and get rid of their draft pick obligation. The problem is that they’ve just not been good. Most around Utah believe the situation isn’t isn’t irretrievable but continued poor play could change that in a hurry. They will certainly see where they are at after getting over their current injury situation.
Thanks for the questions!
What To Watch For
- Turnovers. These two teams are not great at holding on to the ball. The Jazz are last in the NBA at 17.7 per game and the Blazers are 28th at 16.7. One might think that the Blazers might be doing better in this department over their modest two game winning streak. Nope. Tied for dead last at 19.5 per game. The team they are tied with? The Utah Jazz. Portland has the edge in steals with 8.9 per game, good for a fourth place tie in the NBA, while Utah sits in 25th with 6.5. It’s not hard to imagine a wild and wacky game with the team that protects the ball best coming out on top.
- Injuries/absences. The Blazers haven’t played too many teams this season missing as many key players as they are missing. A look at the injury report for the Jazz and you’d have to concede that Utah is in worse shape than the Blazers. Markkanen especially is perhaps harder to replace than even Anfernee Simons. Markkanen leads the Jazz in points, rebounds, steals, minutes played, three pointers attempted, three pointers made, free throws attempted, free throws made and two pointers made. Phew. It’s no wonder Markkanen is starting to draw some trade chatter as the Jazz continue to struggle.
What Others Are Saying
Sarah Todd of the Deseret News writes that Jazz head coach Will Hardy is not afraid to change up the lineup when play isn’t up to standard.
But, as Hardy said, nothing is set in stone. This Jazz team was expected to be better than their 5-11 record suggests and the development of the longterm players of this roster is dependent on the players around them playing at a high level. So, as we’ve seen, Hardy is going to make the decisions that are best for the team, even if it hurts feelings or shocks along the way.
Point guard play has been a problem for Utah, and Chad Porto of The J Notes reports that Kris Dunn won’t be helping for a while.
And while it makes sense to try and get Dunn a lot reps as possible, simply due to his defense, the Utah Jazz are going to be without him for the foreseeable future, as the team’s best perimeter player on defense was just ruled out due to personal issues. We’re not sure what that entails but the news came out on Wednesday that Dunn would be away from the team for a bit. Dunn’s absence will hurt the team’s defense, no doubt.
Utah in the playoffs? James Hansen of SLC Dunk makes the glass-half-full case.
There’s been a lot of hiccups this season for the Utah Jazz. Consider some of the teams making headlines out there for struggling like the Chicago Bulls and the Memphis Grizzlies. Chicago looks like they hate playing basketball together and yet found a way to beat the Jazz. Memphis has missed most of their basketball team for the entire season and found a way to trounce the Jazz last night. Having said that, there’s a lot to be happy about with what has happened so far this season and reasons to think they can make it into the play-in tournament. Let’s look at some of those reasons.