Tonight, the Utah Jazz open up their season on the road in Portland against the Trailblazers. It should be a nice test for the Jazz, who played impressively and went undefeated in the preseason. The preseason doesn’t always carry over into the regular season, though.
Let me attempt to evoke some memories from 2010. The Jazz went 8-0 in the preseason after moving on from Carlos Boozer, trading for Al Jefferson, signing Raja Bell, and drafting everyone’s favorite young stud, Gordon Hayward. There was a lot of optimism surrounding this team, especially with the Deron Williams-Al Jefferson pairing. The season began with a blowout loss to Melo and the Nuggets. Things didn’t get any better from there. Jerry Sloan quit after beefing with star point guard, Deron Williams. DWill was traded shortly after, and the Jazz finished the season 39-43 missing the postseason entirely.
This team is much different than the 2010-11 version. Then, all-star Carlos Boozer had just departed, nobody knew what was going to happen with Deron Williams, and there was just a lot of uncertainty all around. The present Jazz squad couldn’t be any different. They just locked up both of their star players and have built some longevity among a strong supporting cast.
ESPN has the Blazers ranked 3 spots ahead of the Jazz in their preseason Power Rankings. While I disagree with ESPN’s slight, the Blazers are most definitely a formidable opponent. Damian Lillard is so good that he is getting middle school kids benched.
— Ekpe Udoh (@EkpeUdoh) December 22, 2020
While CJ McCollum may not be the second superstar Portland needs to excel to the next level, he is still a force to be reckoned with and can score points in bunches. Moving Carmelo to the bench is a good move in my opinion. Nurkic and Hood are back from injury and the Blazers attempted to shore up their defensive woes by picking up Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. Reconnecting with Kanter will undoubtedly help their bench scoring while allowing a free path to the hoop for any and all opponents. Can you imagine a lineup with Melo and Kanter holding down the defensive fort?
When: Wednesday, December 23rd • 8:00 PM MT
Where: Moda Center, Portland OR
TV: NBCSNW, AT&T SportsNet - Rocky Mountain
Radio: 97.5 FM | 1280 AM The Zone
What to watch for
Damian Lillard versus Donovan Mitchell
These two probably won’t guard each other most of the time but should battle it out in terms of imposing their wills on the game.
If the Jazz can force Lillard into long 2’s, contested 3’s, and make the Blazers rely on someone else to pick up the scoring tab, they should be in good shape. On the other hand, the Blazers are definitely not short on players who can score in bunches: CJ, Melo, Hood, and even Nurkic. However, if the Jazz play with integrity and intensity on D, they should be able to slow them down enough to pick up the W.
I have to admit that it’s difficult for me to hate on Damian Lillard in any way. With his ties to Weber State and his regular praise of Utah, it feels like he’s a hometown hero of sorts. Lillard also seems to be a genuinely nice guy and a good role model. Nonetheless, I hope he gets wrecked tonight!
Rudy Gobert, the $200 million dollar man ($205 million, to be exact)
How will the Stifle Tower play now that he has a long term contract locked up? He should be happy, right? I mean, after all, he is now the highest paid NBA center ever. Gobert took some heat last season, with the perception that he was sulking due to either not getting the ball enough on offense and/or upset about his contract situation.
How will he respond now that the Jazz, as an organization, have rewarded him handsomely for his effort? Is the drive to be better still strong? Does Gobert up the ante and deliver his best season yet? Or does he get comfortable and regress? My guess is that Gobert will come out doing everything he can to prove that he deserves every penny of the contract. We’ll see soon enough.
As far as notable injuries, Zach Collins is still out. Derrick Favors is day-to-day with knee soreness. My guess is he plays, and plays well.
If you could add one retro Blazers player to the current Jazz roster, who would it be?
This poll is closed
Rasheed Wallace (ball don’t lie!)
Scotty Pippen (post Bulls version)
I’m going with Cliff Robinson here, who was ahead of his time as a stretch big who could knock down the trey, sitting at 55 on the all-time list for 3-pointers made. Tough choice, though. Rasheed Wallace would have fit nicely. Pippen was like 34 at this point, but he still buried the Jazz in the 2000 playoffs with a series clinching 3 in 2000, Karl Malone and John Stockton’s last realistic chance at a ring.