Our national nightmare of no NBA basketball is finally over. The Utah Jazz (30-28) are off the All-Star break and back in action tonight, hosting the Portland Trail Blazers (32-26). There will be no time to shake off the rust, though, because this game is huge in terms of a possible playoff berth. With a win tonight, the Jazz would not only be just one game back of the current 7-seed Blazers, but they would also hold the tiebreaker with a 3-0 record against Portland this season and only one game in the season series remaining. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that there’s a 12 game win streak on the line as well.
When: Friday, Feb. 23, 2018 • 7:00 p.m. MT
Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena • Salt Lake City, UT
Radio: 97.5 FM | 1280 AM The Zone
Ricky Rubio - Hip - WILL PLAY
Dante Exum - Shoulder - OUT, targeting March return
Thabo Sefolosha - Knee - OUT
Portland Trail Blazers
CJ Wilcox - Knee - OUT, on rehab assignment in G-League
What To Watch For:
Ricky Rubio’s return
After missing the previous three games (including the last Blazers game) with a hip injury, Ricky Rubio is back!
Ricky Rubio is available to play tonight.— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) February 23, 2018
What remains to be seen is if the time missed from his injury will throw off the groove he was in. Over the win streak, Rubio has been nothing short of incredible. He hit the game-winning 3 in Toronto, has scored over 20 points in 4 of his last 6 games (including 34 in San Antonio), has recorded at least 5 assists in all but 1 game of the streak and has been a plus-minus superstar. During the streak, Rubio has an eFG% of 59% and he’s shooting 54% from 3, clearly sustainable. Right?
Trail Blazers second half defense
On the season, Portland has a defensive rating of 105.0, which is good for 11th in the league. However, a deeper dig into the stats shows the edge that the Jazz have on the Blazers: Their depth. Portland’s defense wears down as the game progresses. The Blazers have a first half DRtg of 101.7, the 5th best mark in the league. That’s a stark contrast to their second half DRtg of 108.4, the 7th worst mark in the league. (Side note: The Jazz aren’t much better at second half defense, sporting a 108.2 mark.) On the Utah side, the Jazz have the 5th best second half offense in the league with an offensive rating of 109.0.
That gives the Jazz a decided advantage in the second half, which is exactly what happened in the last Jazz-Blazers tilt on Feb. 11. Portland held a 1-point lead at halftime before Utah scored 72 points in the second half, resulting in a 9-point win after the Jazz led by 18 at the end of the third quarter.
Most Likely Jazz-Killer: Damian Lillard
Scoring 26 points and dishing nearly 7 assists per game, Dame is fresh off his 3rd career All-Star appearance, and boy, does he love playing against the Jazz. If you feel like Lillard always has his best games against Utah, you’re kind of right. In 21 career games vs the Jazz, Lillard has averaged 26.3 points, 5.7 assists and 4.6 rebounds, shooting 40% from 3. In two games this season, Dame put up a 33 point, 10 rebound, 8 assist game in November, and a 39 point outing in February. The Jazz aren’t going to stop Damian Lillard, they can only hope to outscore him.