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Utah Jazz vs. Portland Trail Blazers Game Preview: Five things to watch

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Game #4: Trail Blazers (2-2) @ Jazz (2-1)
Location: Vivint Smart Home Arena • Salt Lake City, UT
Time: 7:00 p.m. (MT)
TV: ROOT Sports • Radio: 1280 AM / 97.5 FM

Marquee Match-up
Marquee Match-up
Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz (2-1) have braved the least of the East and return home with the best defense in the NBA. While they did not get the three game sweep, they did turn some heads with their play against the Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers, and Indiana Pacers. One thing they have not done yet this season is play against the Western Conference. They will do that tonight in their home opener against the Portland Trail Blazers (2-2). I'm confident that the arena will be packed, the company that purchased the naming rights even gave away 500 tickets. Not that the Jazz faithful needed the help, but it's going to be loud in the arena formerly called the Delta Center. (AFCTDC) And there's good reason to be excited.

Gordon Hayward is making his shots when they count. Derrick Favors is playing like an All-Star, flirting with a 20-10 game almost every night. And Rudy Gobert is blocking shots with such severity that the UN needs to send neutral observers to his game -- and not just because they are big Jazz fans -- but because what he does to the other team borders on a nightly war crime. Assisting the big three have been Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Trevor Booker, and new starters Raul Neto and Rodney Hood. All-in-all it's been a good early season combination for head coach Quin Snyder. But tonight will be a real test. And who better than the team that has always challenged the Jazz, the Trail Blazers.

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1. Recent Play:

The Portland Trail Blazers have had an up and down season so far, winning big in game one against the New Orleans Pelicans 112-94, but then dropping the next two games 110-92 to the Phoenix Suns, and then 101-90 to the same Suns in a back-to-back / home-and-home sequence. Portland bounced back and got back to .500 with a win two nights ago against the Minnesota Timberwolves 106-101. For the season so far the Blazers are scoring 100.0 ppg (18th), while giving up 101.5 ppg (16th). That's in the bottom half of the league, on both sides despite playing at the 8th fastest pace, 101.3 KPa possessions per game.

Portland does do some good things out there on the court, though. They're not a complete tragedy. They are great on the defensive glass, gobbling up 80.7% of all misses, and they really do spread the floor well and take good shots -- they have an eFG% as a team of .500. Both of those values put Portland in the Top 10 of one of the four defensive four factors, and one of the four offensive four factors. Everywhere else there is trouble.

They let other teams get to the line, while they hardly ever go there themselves. They don't cause turn overs, except when they have the ball. And they rarely get the back back off of their own misses.

On the flip side the Jazz are doing very well. They are #2, #2, #5 in three of the four defensive factors. Only the last one, sending teams to the line, are they out of the Top 10. (In reality, they are last in the league in defensive FT/FGA). Offensively the Jazz hold their own, and that could be because of who they have played. We don't know yet. We're going to find out tonight.

Portland has faced off against four Western conference teams and are at .500. Utah has only faced the East. Which data set is more meaningful?

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2. History:

Portland sucks. That's all you need to know. Okay, fine! The Jazz and Blazers tied last season 2-2, and the Jazz are 95-78 all-time in the regular season. The Jazz dominate in Utah, and are 67-19 at home. Of course, the Blazers are better in the playoffs -- I even did a whole post about this before. Let's not dwell TOO MUCH in the hurtful past. (I still have PTSD about Terry Porter corner threes)

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3.Strategy:

For the Jazz -- if healthy, go inside, dominate, get that W.

For the Blazers -- pick up the pace, try to go small, use Damian Lillard against Jazz point guards.

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4. Players:

Oh my goodness Damian Lillard is doing all of the things. He's averaging 25.5 ppg, 8.0 apg, 3.5 rpg, and 1.5 spg. He's playing like the best player on his team right now by a pretty firm margin. Helping him out is C.J. McCollum who is scoring 21.5 ppg, while also bringing 5.3 rpg, 3.0 apg, and 1.3 spg to the table. So the Jazz are facing Lillard and Lillard from like two seasons ago tonight, at the same time. Portland has talent at forward with Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis doing things on the glass, and they both get to the line over three times a game.

Portland in's the best in the West, but as a West team you have to respect them. These guys are not going to roll over. They are still without Gerald Henderson, and bigman Cliff Alexander. So they're not at full strength. Man, the West is tough.

The Jazz also have some injuries. Dante Exum is still out for the season, and Derrick Favors is a game time decision. He has been balling lately, averaging 21.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.3 apg, 2.3 spg, and 1.3 bpg. He will be missed, though replaced in effort by Trevor Booker and Trey Lyles. Hope he does play, though. He's going to try to give it a go.

Utah is more rested than Portland, but hope that rest is not rust.

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5. X-Factors:

After facing three straight East teams celebrating something / memorializing something (former HOFers who passed away or season home openers, or both) it's finally the Jazz' time to play at home. The Jazz fans will be the X-Factor that is a difference maker tonight.

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Prediction:

The Jazz win. Period.