NBA Preseason: Utah Jazz at Portland Trail Blazers -- Game Preview

Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE

Trying out a new layout today -- so stream updates will no populate on the front page, but only on stream itself, and the hub for game streams....

NBA Preseason 2012-2013, Game 7:

Utah Jazz (4-2) @ Portland Trail Blazers (2-3)

Game Preview!

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The Basics:

The Blazers are trotting out a lineup bereft of their All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge tonight, and the Jazz want to keep banging in the paint. Outside of the return of mecha-Greg Oden I don't see the final score being a question -- we'll win. What's more important tonight is to see which lineups play, and how we play on defense.

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History:

Last preseason was only two games, and it was a home and home series against the Blazers. In the game against the Jazz, Portland went for it with their starters in the 4th quarter against our bench. I believe the two teams split the games. Tonight we face them off for the last two games of the preseason, and will hope for a better result.

During the regular season the Jazz swept the Blazers for the first time, I think, ever. The first game was the 19th game of the season for the Jazz, and we won it 93-89. The last three games were all when the Blazers had waived the white flag already, and all of them were 'gimmies' on the schedule. Paul Millsap torched the Blazers in games 1 and 2, and Alec Burks torched the Blazers in games 3 and 4.

It would be wrong to suggest that we're not rivals -- having faced each other in the playoffs during critical times during the last few decades. We're in the same division, and they have a bunch of our former players on their roster. I'd love to win tonight's game. Even if it's just a preseason game.

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The Game:

Head coach Terry Stotts has already announced that he will start Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Jared Jeffries, and J.J. Hickson. So, that's pretty much throwing the game against our legion of bigs. (Protip: We'll get like 50 rebounds tonight) I'm not really sold on the Blazers as a playoff team this year, but that could just be me being a hater. Lillard is really an unknown to me as I'm a Jazz fan who is an out of state Jazz fan. He seems like a very good shooting PG. The league seems to have those in abundance right now. Heck, we have Mo Williams and Randy Foye who both are mainly perimeter threats who will never average a double double for a season. By that metric we have TWO Lillards already. But again, that's me being a hater.

The Jazz are rolling right now on offense, and I think their defense needs some work. Portland knows how to spread the floor and work for the best shot (they are patient and share the ball), so tonight isn't going to be as easy as it looks on paper. We're still a bad team defending the pick and roll, and the Blazers have a bunch of guys who can set screens who can step back and hit jumpers. Tonight we'll be testing our pick and roll and pick and pop defense (something we haven't really had to do since the OKC game).

If you are a fancy 1%er who owns a TV, you can watch tonight's game at 8:00 pm Utah time on ROOT. If you paid over $100 for League Pass Broadband, like me, you may be out of luck.

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Word from the Badguys:

For this game I got a chance to fire off a few e-mails with Sean Highkin (@shighkinNBA). You know him from everywhere, mostly Portland Roundball Society and Hardwood Paroxysm. Since we have two games against the Blazers in a row, these first questions are pretty dry. The questions for next game will be a little more . . . crazy. Maybe.

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Question 1:

Amar: For Jazz fans we've been haunted by your franchise for years. From Drexler and Porter knocking down threes on us in the playoffs, to your general manager offering our RFA's crazy contracts in the off-seasons. This is clearly a "we hate you more than you hate us" situation though. This off-season the ante was upped by taking Damian Lillard in the NBA Draft - a guy who played college ball in Utah that a lot of Jazz fans wanted the team to move up for. Is Lillard the real deal? How does he compare to the other PGs the Blazers have had in the last few seasons?

Sean: I'm pretty high on Lillard—he's actually my preseason Rookie of the Year pick. For a scoring point guard, especially a rookie, he's such a smart player. He doesn't jack up shots, and his court vision is excellent. The last young player the Blazers had at the position was Jerryd Bayless, who was a chucker and never really learned how to run an offense. Lillard has already surpassed him in those regards. Putting aside Raymond Felton, because it's hard to be worse than Felton was for the Blazers last year, Lillard is a very different player than the Blazers' last long-ish-term starting point guard, Andre Miller. He's not nearly the passer Miller is (to be fair, not a lot of people are), but he's a much better shooter, and the athleticism is obviously not a comparison.

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Question 2:

Amar: Beyond Lillard, the Blazers have three former Jazz players on their training camp / preseason roster: Wes Matthews, Ronnie Price, and Sasha Pavlovic. Which if those last two guys has the best chance to make the team this year? Or will it just eventually go to Adam Morrison -- because, well, because he's Adam Morrison?

Sean: Price isn't really in danger of not making the roster. He's sitting out the preseason with a minor ankle injury, but he's pretty safely entrenched in the backup point guard role. I'm fine with him in that spot (the alternative is Nolan Smith, whom I've never really forgiven for being drafted instead of Kenneth Faried, and also he sucks) but before he got hurt, I was kind of concerned by Terry Stotts' insistence on playing him and Lillard together in the backcourt with Lillard playing off the ball. Seemed counterproductive to developing Lillard as the Point Guard Of The Future.

Pavlovic makes me mad by existing, a sentiment with which I'm sure everyone who's ever had him on their team can relate. Unfortunately, he seems like a shoe-in to make the roster too. Stotts has been tightening up the rotation to something resembling the regular-season units over the past couple of preseason games, and Pavlovic has been getting minutes rather than Stache Lion. I'm as disappointed as you are.

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Question 3:

Amar: The Blazers have one of the most complete bigmen around in LaMarcus Aldridge. The All-Star finished with 22 and 8 in 55 games last season, and I think it became clear that he can't do it by himself. In fact, most All-Star bigs truly dominate when paired up with a solid starter who helps law down the law in the paint. Did the Blazers get someone to start with LMA who'll make his life easier this off-season? Or will Aldridge have to do it by himself again this year?

Sean: It's not looking good. As of now, the Blazers' starting center is J.J. Hickson. Their season opener is against the Lakers, and having watched Dwight Howard's debut last night, I can say that that matchup is going to be nothing short of hilarious. With that said, out of their current roster of bigs, I think Aldridge and Meyers Leonard will eventually develop into a reliable frontcourt duo. But Leonard's skills as a defender at this point are extremely raw—he fouls a ton, like most rookie bigs do, and he still bites on a lot of pump fakes. But a 7'1" guy with his mobility and athleticism is going to be a quality NBA player sooner or later.

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Thanks again Sean, and I'm glad to hear that Ronnie P isn't in any risk to lose his spot. He's a huge fan favorite here.

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X-Factors:

The epic battle of Adam Morrison vs. DeMarre Carroll. You know this is what you want to watch. Instead you're probably going to get predictable Ty Corbin rotations vs. bench guys . . . jokes aside, I really think it still will be outside shooting. The Jazz are shooting very well from outside, and holding the opposing teams to like 25% from downtown.

The Blazers have a ton of guys who can always make shots, and it may just end up being a Wes Matthews type of game.

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As an aside:

I'm pretty much the only Jazz fan who isn't crazy about Lillard . . . but I know that's because I'm already writing love letters about a pass-first PG named Myck Kabongo . . .

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Fearless Prediction:

Jazz win. We're healthier. We want it more. And Enes Kanter wants to find some hipster lady friends.

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