January 30, 2012; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; The Utah Jazz huddle during a time out late in the fourth quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at EnergySolutions Arena. The Jazz defeated the Trail Blazers 93-89. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

Utah @ Portland Preview

I’m seriously scared to death for tonight’s game (cue that Culkin kid from Home Alone freaking out) – here the Jazz sit, an entire game behind Houston in the playoff standings, facing three pivotal games THEY MUST WIN.

Why?

After these three games (two at home, by the way) Utah must face San Antonio (currently sitting behind OKC in the Western Conference standings) back-to-back. I’m not saying the Jazz CAN’T beat San Antonio, but I think many would agree that the odds are not in Utah’s favor (unless G. Pop sits his starters again).

And so the Jazz must defeat Portland tonight – in Portland – the Suns on Wednesday and the Warriors on Friday – both of those games are at home, mind you – if they want to stay alive and give themselves a nice cushion heading to Texas.

The Warriors are done, so that immediately makes them the scariest team to play (ala Sac-Town) this week. They have nothing to lose, are injury-ridden and basically spend their afternoons playing hop-scotch with washed up movie stars who don’t have enough money to catch a Lakers or Clippers game. Same with Portland, a team that cashed in its chips and underwent a gutting process after putting up an unspectacular record at the trade deadline.

Gone are coach Nate McMillan, sometimes-sharp shooter Gerald Wallace and Marcus Camby. Portland received, then waved former Jazzman Mehmet Okur, and has since released injury-ridden big man Greg Oden – obviously hoping to take part in this summer’s D-Will sweepstakes.

The T-Blazers are still a viable threat, averaging 98 ppg in their last 10 outings, and winning five. Their record may suck, but they still have big boys LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Kurt Thomas, Raymond Felton, and our beloved Wesley Matthews. They like to attack the paint, or at least they used to. I have no idea how they’re fairing these days as the fam doesn’t exactly keep up on the happenings of Oregon.

Utah has lost four out of its last five since going all out and winning six and a row all those moons ago. They still have a chance to do some damage in the west, but more or less have to win at least 75-percent of their remaining games.

The last time these two teams met up, Utah won 93-89 during a time when all was right with the world. Of course, after that game the Jazz nose dived into a bizarre free fall, only to recover, then fall even harder in recent weeks. While they haven’t exactly hit the pavement, there’s not a whole lot of optimism to grasp onto.

A win against Portland tonight would be huge, as it would give the Jazz a nice confidence booster heading into the home stretch. As stated, these next few games are absolute must-wins; luckily the schedule is in the Jazz’s favor – a rest between each game should give them a decent amount of time to recoup.

The win would also give the Jazz a slight edge, as they face Portland two more times before season’s end – one away and one at home. Defeating the T-Blazers on their home court is never easy (their fans are terrific), but a victory tonight would at least relieve some of the pressure the Jazz currently face.

The Jazz’s play recently has been downright sluggish, with Coach Corbin going back to his half-court sets instead of wheeling and dealing like they were a little over a week ago. Big Al has posted impressive 25+ point nights in each of the last two games, but the rest of the team lags far behind. Only Gordy seems to carry enough energy to contend with his opponents, but even he looks downright drained at times (I keep waiting for him to literally explode).

Tonight’s game comes down to whether or not our bench can produce, as they’ve been outscored, outplayed and outmanned during the current losing streak. Favors and Kanter haven’t posted double-digits since Atlanta, while Burks struggled last game against the Clippers (three points) and Boston (nine points).

I think they’ll play better tonight, as Portland’s bench isn’t exactly deep … unless you consider Hasheem Thabeet a viable threat.

The Jazz must push the tempo, though, and get Milsap involved early – he needs to have one of those spectacular games where you know he’s on the court, as opposed to the past few games where he slept-walked through most of the plays.

Harpring mentioned the other night how he doesn’t think the Jazz ever recovered from that painful quadruple OT loss against Atlanta (that inadvertently led to Utah’s current losing streak, and Coach Corbin’s getting axed from Coach of the Year contention) – this year has been grueling, and that OT loss certainly didn’t help, but I still believe Utah has one more run left in them. If they can win these next three games, and split the San Antonio series, I think they can steal a number 7-8 spot easy, and cruise to a better-than-expected 36-31 record.

And here we go …

Tags: Big Al Hayward Miles Milsap Portland Preview Utah Jazz

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