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Gordon Hayward and Jazz look to get back to work tonight against Blazers

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Portland Trail Blazers (36-17) @ Utah Jazz (19-34)
EnergySolutions Arena • Salt Lake City, UT
7:00 p.m. (MT) • TV: ROOT Sports • Radio: 1280 AM / 97.5 FM

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight the new-look Utah Jazz tip off against old foes, the Portland Trail Blazers. We all know about how the Jazz traded Enes Kanter and Steve Novak in a three-way, where they got back Grant Jerrett, Kendrick Perkins, and biscuits. The Blazers also made a move last night, getting Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee from the Denver Nuggets for Thomas Robinson, Will Barton, Victor Claver, and a future pick. Robinson agreed to a buyout, so he's not even with them anymore. If you are looking at what the Jazz and Trail Blazers did on draft night you can see that adding Afflalo and Gee is better than adding Jerrett and future cap relief. So the Blazers are better than they were before the All-Star Break; and they were pretty good already.

Portland leads the North West division and are approaching 40 wins, and will probably get it before the month is up. They sit at #3 in the West, tied really with the Houston Rockets. They are 13-12 on the road this season, but injury uncertainty helped them slog to a 5-5 mark in their last ten games. Every win counts, especially those against bottom rung teams. Unfortunately for them, I don't think the Jazz are a bottom rung team anymore, as they are #12th in the West right now. This is when Utah went on that gallant #playoffpush years ago only to get decimated by the Spurs. I don't expect the same ending stretch for our Jazz though, this time around.

The Blazers are led by LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, and Wesley Matthews. Those four guys are legit, two are All-Stars, two are non-Star Stars. Their inside rotation is proficient, behind Aldridge they have Chris Kaman, Robin Lopez, Meyers Leonard, and Joel Freeland. There's a lot of length and size there, if not for overt skill level. I feel like the Jazz inside foursome of Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Rudy Gobert, and Trevor Booker could take them any day of the week -- but we're not a foursome anymore. Jeremy Evans could become a rotation player again, having survived the Game of Thrones Season x Episode 9 style fallout.

It's going to be interesting to see what happens inside.

Outside I think that Gordon Hayward will be more than happy to get back to work after spending a few days during his break with his bride out there in Hawaii (I think? I'm not a stalker. It was someplace nice and warm, it could have been Draper, UT for all I know.) Having to deal with Wes, Batum, and Afflalo without any real help will be a challenge for him. Alec Burks is out of an arm sling now, but he's still not going to play this year. Joe Ingles can do his thing, but his thing seems to be the inverse of what Matt Harpring does, but at the same general ability level of Harpring. Elijah Millsap persists as someone you have to deal with, but if his shot could ever return we'd all feel better about it.

The point guard spot is a worry for me, as Steve Blake and Lillard are way better than Dante Exum and Trey Burke. I expect our guys to play hard, especially at home, but this could be a rather difficult game to and difficult team to stay close to.

Injuries:

  • Alec Burks (UTA) -- out for the season
  • Joe Ingles (UTA) -- will play through back spasms
  • Rodney Hood (UTA) -- probable, with some restricted minutes in his first game since December 30th, 2014
  • Joel Freeland (POR) -- out, with a right shoulder strain
  • Chris Kaman (POR) -- questionable, due to a sprained ankle

Portland is a load without those bigmen, as they have the 10th best offense (ORTG) and 2nd best defense (DRTG); coupled with their faster than average pace (12th), they end up being a team that scores 102.6 ppg (8th) while giving up only 97.3 (8th). They really take care of the ball on offense and take excellent shots. Blazers don't get to the line much, or get offensive rebounds -- but a big part of that could be taking about 30 shots a game from downtown, and making 36% of them. On defense they rarely foul, or force a turn over . . . they play solid defense, make you take contested shots, and get the defensive rebound.

If Utah is going to win this game they have to contain their two All-Stars, and hope the role players miss their threes. On offense the team will have to crash the glass early and often. It's harder without Kanter there, but you have to move on. Or at least I do.

Marquee Match-Up: Derrick Favors vs. LaMarcus Aldridge

Fearless Prediction: Rudy Gobert helps us get over Enes Kanter very quickly, starting tonight

Fearful Prediction: The team gunning for the West Finals is going to come out with a purpose, while our guys are like "welp, lotto again, huh?"

Let's Go Jazz!