The Utah Jazz start February off with five games in seven nights. Tonight they'll visit the Portland Trail Blazers, then fly home to host the Memphis Grizzlies tomorrow. After a Thursday off the team will fly down to face the Phoenix Suns, then return to Utah to tip off against the Sacramento Kings. After a Sunday off they will fly out to the gulf to face the New Orleans Pelicans. Those are four teams trying to make the playoffs, and one team that we "could" be better than by the end of the season comes around. No doubt the team has an eye for their schedule and knows what is up.
Perhaps they just care about how well the team is playing right now, though? In that case, it's hard not to love what the Jazz have been doing of late. They have won 3 of their last 5 games, including a solid win at home against the West leading Golden State Warriors. Tonight's game is on the road, and this Jazz team is suspiciously okay outside of the ESA. Utah's 8-16 road record includes wins against the Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, Chicago Bulls, and the Milwaukee Bucks. Most of those teams are Eastern foes, but there are some good wins there against good clubs.
The good fortune and positive vibes are necessary because tonight's challenge will be tough. Yes, the Jazz are 93-76 all time against Portland, but they are only 27-58 in their gym. Furthermore, Portland swept the season series last year, 4-0. That was the first time our division rivals did that. So, sads all around.
Geography isn't the only obstacle. Utah will still be without starting shooting guard Alec Burks, and 'top' bench wing Rodney Hood. Sure, Joel Freeland is out tonight, and Robin Lopez is probable, but Utah wasn't so strong with the guards in the first place. Portland still has LaMarcus Aldridge, a three time All-Star who is going to his fourth straight ASG in a few weeks. The two time All-NBA 3rd team member is averaging 23.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.1 bpg, and shooting a crazy 50.0% from downtown this year. (50 attempts in 42 games so far this season)
Furthermore, Damian Lillard is still salty over his All-Star snub and will come out motivated tonight. Not like they NEED anymore motivation. The Blazers have lost three straight games, and and won only 2 of their last 10. They shouldn't get into those kind of messes, but their road record is not quite as stellar as their home record this season (20-5). Portland is also 6-1 against their division this year.
It's going to be a tough match tonight, I get that. Portland has one of the best offenses (102.4 ppg (8th), 107.3 points per 100 poss (11th)), and best defenses (97.3 opp ppg (7th), 102.0 PP100P (3rd)). They play at the 11th fastest pace, and are excellent at contesting shots and clearing the defensive glass. They rarely foul, but also rarely force a turn over. On offense almost everyone can make threes, and eight players have now taken 50 or more shots from downtown already (Wesley Matthews, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, Steve Blake, Dorell Wright, Allen Crabbe, C.J. McCollum, and LaMarcus Aldridge).
Quin Snyder's offense wants to create open shots. Terry Stotts' team, with their great talent, does the same.
On paper the Utah Jazz should lose this game. But on paper they should have lost their last game too. Even when they are healthy they are over looked, and I like how this team of guys have been raised on the concept of not backing down / not being afraid of the better teams. Gordon Hayward almost always steps up against the best competition out there -- proving that he belongs among elite company. Trey Burke has taken his demotion well enough, and is a more focused and dangerous player right now. Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Rudy Gobert are a real three headed monster right now; while Trevor Booker versatility argue that this is a real foursome. In his last game he stepped out and made two threes, played solid defense, and finished with 17 points, and 7 rebounds.
The Jazz' strengths are turning into some sort of defensive team that scores based on dribble penetration. A team that wins on the road, and beats teams they shouldn't.
It's a fun team to watch. It's a fun team to see develop.
It's not going to be a fun team for the Blazers to play against tonight.
Wesley Matthews vs. Joe Ingles -- it's either going to be a great marquee match-up or buddy cop movie.
Portland gets all of the foul calls, and get to the line 30 times and are allowed to play hands-y defense
Paul Allen will tell Stotts to give it to Marshawn Lynch.