Utah Jazz (4-16) @ Portland Trail Blazers (16-3)
Tip Off @ 8:00 p.m. MST
TV : Root Sports
Projected Starting Lineups
PG – Trey Burke
SG – Gordon Hayward
SF – Richard Jefferson
PF – Derrick Favors
C – Enes Kanter
Portland Trail Blazers
PG – Damian Lillard
SG – Wesley Matthews
SF – Nicolas Batum
PF – LaMarcus Aldridge
C – Robin Lopez
First off, I have to apologize for not doing a preview for the past couple of games. It’s gameday Jazz fans! The Jazz are in Portland to take on one of the most surprising teams in the league. Portland comes into tonight’s game as the best team in the Western Conference. Before the season, I thought that Portland could have a pretty good season, possibly looking at sneaking into the 7th or 8th spot in the playoffs. I think I underestimated them.
Portland only has 3 losses on the season. 2 of those losses came against the Phoenix Suns. This week, Portland beat the Indiana Pacers in a hard fought game. Then two nights later, Portland went to Oklahoma City and faced a Thunder team riding an 8 game win streak. Portland put an end to that streak. Portland has beaten the Pacers, Thunder, Spurs, Golden State, and Chicago and also, at one point, had an 11 game winning streak. All 5 of the Blazers starters, plus Mo Williams off the bench, are averaging double figures so far at home this season.
The Jazz fought hard against the Pacers on Wednesday night, but came up short in the 4th quarter when Indiana started to pull away late. The entire Jazz team has looked completely different, in a good way, since the return of Trey Burke from injury. The Jazz are no longer the worst team in the league. Since Trey Burke has been the starting point guard for the Jazz, the team is 3-3. Before returning from injury, the Jazz were 1-13.
The Jazz earned their first road victory of the season last week at Phoenix, a place where the Blazers lost earlier this season twice. The Jazz have shown improvements over the last week winning a few games, but they still have to show the improvements on the road. Tonight will be a big test.
Key Matchup : Trey Burke vs Damian Lillard
This is a game I, personally, have been looking forward to since we drafted Trey. Damian Lillard, the 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year against what could very well be this seasons Rookie of the Year in Trey Burke.
Lillard, out of Weber State, has been one of the best young point guards in the league. This season, Lillard is averaging 20.2 points and 5.7 assists this season. Burke so far on the season is averaging 12.6 points and 4.1 assists.
In the last 3 games for Burke, he is averaging 18 points and is coming off a career high game with 9 assists. The most impressive stat of all for Trey, is in his last 4 games, he only has 2 total turnovers. That stat is almost unheard of for a point guard, let alone a Rookie point guard. He is taking care of the ball and the offense is moving much smoother with him on the court.
In Lillard’s last 5 games, he has hit the 20 point scoring mark in 3 of those games. We have all seen how dynamic of a player Lillard can be. Tonight will be a great test for Trey. If he wants to win Rookie of the Year this season, which he has said that is a goal of his, he will have to prove his case against last seasons award winner.
Last game for the Jazz, the bench looked absolutely terrible. Besides the 11 points that the Jazz got from Alec Burks off the bench, only Mike Harris and Brandon Rush were the only other players to score for the Jazz, and each of them only scored 2 points. The bench was outscored 28-15 by the Pacers. The rotations for the bench were different to begin with. Both Marvin Williams, who had been in the starting lineup the previous 5 games, and Jeremy Evans were out with injuries. With Marvin missing from the starting lineup, Enes Kanter was moved back into the lineup and produced.
Missing Marvin is missing 14 points and 6 rebounds over his last 10 games. Also, Marvin was shooting 50% from the field over the last 10 games. Something the Jazz desperately needed last game. Marvin played in the game before against Houston. The Jazz as a team shot 54.4% from the field and 58.8% from 3 in that game. Marvin missed the game against Indiana and the Jazz as a team shot 41.3% from the field and 36.4% from 3. I’m not saying that Marvin makes up that entire difference, but with Marvin out on the court, he has been shooting the ball really well as of late. When Marvin is shooting well, it seems to make everyone else shoot a little bit better. I hope Marvin gets recovered quickly because he, along with Trey, has been a big factor in the Jazz’s recent improvements.
Jeremy also was out but was listed as missing the game due to illness. With Jeremy out, you missed his energy off the bench. Jeremy is out there to prove that he can be a rotational player, and so far that is exactly what he has done. He is averaging 8.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game this season in 19 minutes per game. Jeremy is shooting the ball unbelievably well. He has developed an outside jump shot that no one has seen from him before. If you look at his shooting percentage, you would expect it to mainly be dunks. It’s not. The majority of his shots have been jumpers from 12-15 feet out. He is shooting 26-36 from the field for 72% shooting. It’s great to see such improvement from him over the off season. Hopefully he is back on the court quickly.
The bench for Portland has a guy that the Jazz are very farmiliar with. Mo Williams went from the Jazz to the Blazers this off season. So far, the move has been good for the Blazers. Mo is averaging nearly 10 points per game and 4.6 assists in 25 minutes off the bench for Portland. Mo has said off the court that he has the utmost respect for the Utah Jazz organization. However, on the court in 2 pre-season games this year, Mo has looked like he wanted nothing more than to prove to the Jazz that they made a mistake by letting him walk. Look tonight for Mo to try and prove that again.
The Jazz are improving, but the Blazers are extremely improved since last season. They have a great starting unit, like they had last season. The difference this season for Portland is their bench. They finally have a fantastic bench that can take some pressure off of their starters. The game will come down to the bench play. The Jazz starters can compete with the Blazers starters, but the bench will decide the game.
Blazers 102, Jazz 95