There are three more games left in this abbreviated season for the Utah Jazz, and if you can believe it, we’re already at the last home game of the regular season. In spite of the heartbreaking loss at the Warriors on Monday, where the Jazz battled back only to lose at the very end (Clarkson taketh and Clarkson giveth), the Warriors pulled off the unthinkable and beat the Suns on the second night of a back-to-back with Steph Curry making only 1 of his 11 three pointers. This almost assuredly hands the Jazz the 1 seed, which can be all but locked up with a win tonight.
The Blazers are currently located in the 5th seed in the Western conference, meaning that they could potentially be a second round matchup if they stay in that spot and make it past the Nuggets (unlikely) or if they get unlucky with losses in their last three games (Jazz, Suns, Nuggets), fall to the 7th seed, and lose their play-in (possible). With such a format, and such crucial games here at the end, who the Jazz will face could be any of a selection of four or even five teams, so the Jazz just need to focus on staying healthy and closing out the season strong.
Luckily, Bojan Bogdanovic is rounding into an amazing form, and even though Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell continue to be out tonight, it seems more like precaution out of safety rather than severe lingering injury.
When: 7:30PM MDT
Where: Vivint Arena, Salt Lake City
TV: ESPN, AT&T SportsNet-Rocky Mountain, NBC Sports Northwest
Radio: KZNS/KTUB, KPOJ
Projected Starting Lineups
UTAH: G: Mike Conley G: Joe Ingles F: Bojan Bogdanovic F: Royce O’Neale C: Rudy Gobert
POR (predicted): G: Damian Lillard G: CJ McCollum F: Norman Powell F: Robert Covington C: Jusuf Nurkic
What to watch for
The Blazers are not really well known for their defense, though they do have Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. trying to hold things together around 6’2” Damian Lillard, 6’3” CJ McCollum, and 6’4” Norm Powell. What they do have is firepower - for example, against the Rockets on Monday, 112 of their 140 points came from Lillard (34), McCollum (28), Powell (28), and Jusuf Nurkic (22), respectively. Familiar faces Enes Kanter and Carmelo Anthony also pack a punch off of the bench. While the Jazz have cooled off the Blazers with two 20 and 19 point wins this season, the Blazers have ridden their hot offense (125.6 Offensive Rating, 17.1 Net Rating) to a four game winning streak, and eight wins in their last ten games.
Are the the Jazz real contenders? We don’t exactly know. We’ve had some bad losses and some good wins. A lot of players have stepped up, but the Jazz still have to prove themselves. Because of the uncertainty around the play-in, the Jazz should try to win this game regardless of who they match up against - the Blazers, Warriors, Grizzlies, or Spurs.
The Blazers are extra motivated to stay in the fifth or sixth seed and avoid first round tournament. That may not be possible with the Suns and Nuggets left, with Lakers (currently 7th) having Rockets, Pacers, and Pelicans and the Mavs having the Pelicans, Raptors, and Timberwolves, left. The Blazers have the tiebreak over both teams, so while the Blazers control their destiny, so do the Jazz. Thus, this game is important.
One thing that is for certain is that the Jazz’s last home game will be cheered on by some of the loudest and passionate fans. The Vivint Arena hosts about 18,000 spectators, with a current maximum capacity of 5,500, but I’m certain we’ll get a taste of that electric playoff atmosphere as we round out the season.