The Utah Jazz look to extend their longest winning streak since 2010 as they face off against the Portland Trail Blazers. New Jazzman Jae Crowder will make his Utah Jazz debut in Portland against a Trailblazer team that is just three and a half games ahead of Utah in the standings. A win tonight would bring Utah within two and a half games of Portland, one game within the Clippers for ninth place in the Western Conference, and bring Utah’s winning percentage to .500 for the first time since December 7th. December 7th coincidentally was right after Utah’s six game winning streak was broken.
The Utah Jazz will be facing an even tougher test tonight as Utah faces not only a division rival, but could be doing it without Ricky Rubio who suffered left the Jazz’s last game against Charlotte with hip soreness. Rubio since the end of January has been rejuvenated averaging 18.9 points per game, 5.4 rebounds, 7.6 assists, and 1.3 steals during the Jazz’s eight game winning streak. If Ricky is unable to play, or is limited by injury, expect to see a healthy dose of Donovan Mitchell at point guard and Raul Neto off the bench. There’s a good chance if Rubio is unable to play that Mitchell will start at point guard with Ingles at the two and Crowder at the three. Another option would be starting Utah’s other rookie phenom, Royce O’Neale, allowing Crowder to come off the bench. Royce O’Neale has been averaging 8.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 0.9 steals a game during the win streak.
The Portland Trailblazers are coming off a 118-100 victory against Sacramento Kings. Damian Lillard had an off night in the victory, only scoring 50 points while making 8 threes in 29 minutes. He’ll be looking to rediscover his rhythm in Portland against the Jazz. Ricky Rubio has been stellar on the defensive end shutting down elite point guards like Kemba Walker, Steph Curry, and Kyle Lowry. If Rubio is out, that responsibility will fall to Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, and Raul Neto. Will they be able to shutdown Lillard who’ll be looking to have an encore of his 50 point performance?
When: Sunday, February 11, 2018 • 7:00 PM MT
Where: Moda Center - Portland, Oregon
TV: AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain
Radio: 1280 and 97.5 The Zone
Dante Exum - OUT (Shoulder)
Thabo Sefolosha - OUT (Knee)
Ricky Rubio - Questionable (Hip)
Portland Trail Blazers:
CJ Wilcox - OUT (Knee)
What To Watch For:
Damian Lillard vs Utah Jazz’s backcourt
Damian Lillard is a tough player to guard under ideal circumstances. With Ricky Rubio nursing hip soreness, the Utah Jazz are already in dangerous territory. They will have to rely upon their backcourt depth to give Lillard different looks on defense. Expect Utah to throw Mitchell, O’Neale, Joe Ingles, Neto, and Jae Crowder at the Rose City superstar. Utah will be in a world of hurt if Alec Burks has to step in to guard him if any of the Jazz’s backcourt corps get into early foul trouble. Donovan Mitchell must avoid foul trouble. If Mitchell starts at point guard, Utah will probably do their best to make sure Donovan isn’t guarding Lillard full-time until later in the game.
Jae Crowder’s Debut
Jae Crowder was born to be a Jazzman. His father played for the Utah Jazz, the Jazz’s defensive identity fits him like a glove, and on a team with so many great hairstyles, he adds to Jazz’s current all-time hair hall of fame class of Mitchell, Rubio, and Gobert (sorry, Ingles). The Jae Crowder reclamation project begins tonight in Portland. Utah believes they can get him back to his Boston numbers; if Ricky Rubio, Joe Ingles, and Royce O’Neale are any indication, Crowder’s chances of that are pretty high if he’s willing to put in the work. Look for Ricky Rubio and Rudy Gobert to have found the perfect defensive partner when the Jazz go small, and look for Rubio and Mitchell to fall in love with Jae Crowder’s pick and flare ability at the 3 point line.
Most Likely Jazz Killer: Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard loves Donovan Mitchell’s game. For that reason, Lillard is going to come out swinging to show fans what a superstar looks like. Gone are the games at the beginning of the season where opposing team’s stars are intrigued by Donovan. Now a game against Donovan Mitchell can serve as a measuring stick for your own talents and abilities. Without Ricky Rubio out there to slow him down—potentially—it could be open season for Lillard at the Moda Center.