Dane Carbaugh is the editor of aYoungSabonis.com. Playbook Breakdowns on BlazersEdge. Newsdesk writer for SB Nation NBA. Follow him on Twitter at @DaneCarbaugh.
Clint Peterson: Due to having not attended one of the “Big Three” schools in Utah, Damian Lillard often gets forgotten when talk of local legends of the hardwood are discussed. How is he viewed among Portland’s fanbase?
Dane Carbaugh: There’s a real possibility that secretly, the people in this city cherish him more than LaMarcus Aldridge. Sort of the way that you respect your favorite pair of boots (Aldridge) but your favorite pair of shoes are those wild, impractical purple Hyperflights (Lillard) you never take of the box. That’s not really a knock on Aldridge, but people’s eyes light up when they talk about Lillard in a way I haven’t seen about a Blazer since Brandon Roy.
A big part of that is how long Portland has been waiting for their “point guard of the future”. The best point guard they’ve had in the last decade was a 34-year-old Andre Miller. Nevermind the fact that he’s got a worse DRtg than JJ Hickson did last season and the same NetRtg: He captures the hearts of the city and has the kind of personality and work ethic that people here admire.
Lillard is a special player, and people have really taken to him. He’s also a secret marketing goldmine. Here in Portland, people are wearing his jersey, they’re buying the model of shoes he wears — everything. They eat him up. His demeanor is so cool you wouldn’t expect that to be the case but I think that’s part of his natural magnetism.
CP: Just how many injuries are on the Blazer’s roster and what effect is it having on game performances?
DC: They’ve only played one game so far with this, uh, lineup. It’s not exactly going to look pretty. They are missing Joel Freeland (right knee), LaMarcus Aldridge (groin) and Meyers Leonard (ankle).
They’re experimenting with playing Dorell Wright at the 3 with Nic Batum at the 4, which is pretty silly considering Batum wasn’t strong enough to guard Boris Diaw in their first game back from the All-Star Break. How they try to move them around will be interesting. I’m not sure their offense has the ability to keep up with the spacing needed to produce the points they’re going to give up on the defensive end of the floor.
You’re going to see a lot of contested jumpshots, would be my guess. Without Aldridge or any post presence down low, the wings don’t need to come off the arc at all and they can overplay the screens on the wing. I expect the Jazz to do that tonight.
CP: Is there talk of “going all the way this year” in your neck of the Northwest woods?
Between sane people? No. As much as we are all impressed with the Blazers offense, their defense is highly suspect. It’s not suspect in a way that teams won’t be able to exploit in the playoffs, either — it’s not one guy they can hide on defense. It’s a systemic issue as well as a talent one and Portland really needs to work on it through April if they want to have a chance of making the conference championship.
That being said, no one in Rip City expected this from this team. When the Blazers drafted Jeff Withey everyone was pumped about it because it gave them another big man to develop while they won 37 games. Seriously. So this year has really exceeded expectations. What people in Portland want (and need) is a second-round series. They can’t get bounced in the first round again, it would be a disaster.
CP: What matchup will you be watching most closely tonight?
DC: Trey Burke and Damian Lillard is the obvious one, but I think it would do people well to pay attention to the nuance between the two. How Lillard guards him will be especially interesting to me. We all know that last time, he made it his M.O. to punish the rookie for, well, being a rookie on the offensive end of the floor. Burke, if he has learned as you have said, will be a handful for him to guard. He was a handful last time these teams met and I think that will be where this game could get tight.
CP: Is there a weakness the Utah Jazz can exploit to give themselves a shot in this, the third meeting of the season between these two?
DC: Guard the arc. Portland looks bad on offense with this lineup and they don’t really have too many natural penetrators off the wing. Lillard is one, Mo Williams is another. CJ McCollum has had some success there but that’s about it. Don’t expect to see Wesley Matthews take it off the bounce that well, and Dorell Wright is flat out bad. That being said, Wright did try to get to the bucket from the wing so if the Jazz can collapse on him they will be able to force some turnovers.
Portland gives up the 12-17 foot jumper a lot, and it doesn’t always include them contesting the shot. If the Jazz want to win it will mean taking those jumpers when they are given and making them. Robin Lopez is the only one defending the rim so if they have someone who can penetrate and get to the second level, that should also either put the onus on the defensive rotation to hold or for Robin Lopez to contest without fouling.