The Utah Jazz season starts tonight. Well, not exactly. The first game of the season is later on this month. And training camp and media day started last month. But our boys tip off tonight in their first preseason game of the year — against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers and Jazz have been battling it out in the Western Conference for years, and since division realignment — have been at each other’s necks for years. Last season wasn’t so hot, as the Blazers won the season series 3-1 and made some noise in the NBA Playoffs.
The Jazz need to show the world that they are ready to make a similar statement -- and THAT starts tonight against the Blazers in their gym.
There are no stats to go over as the season hasn’t started yet. So let’s go over something more troubling — the fact that the Blazers got better at what they were already good at. When you think of this team you look at Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and you see two hot shooting guards who can create for themselves and others, and have torched the Jazz before. But one thing we have to pay attention to is their ability to get offensive rebounds.
Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, and Al-Farouq Aminu were beastly on the boards in key situations last season against Utah and the rest of the NBA. Now they’ve added Festus Ezeli to the party. Ezeli, and Evan Turner, mean that guys like Aminu and 7’1 center Meyers Leonard are now working their tails off in the paint off the bench. It’s one thing when your team takes a bunch of perimeter jumpers -- but it’s another thing if your team can keep getting the ball back on the boards.
And this is the problem with Portland. They have significant strengths that need to be countered -- beyond the overt one of “Lillard is a star.”
Is it going to be strength vs. strength for our Jazz players? You’d hope that the defensive rebounding would be something our team an take care of. (Of course, the deeper you dig, you see that in crunch time that wasn’t always the case for our team.) Looking at last season’s stats as a key, the Blazers were 3rd best in the league with a 25.9 ORB%. The jazz were 7th best in the league with a 77.7 DRB%. Effectively, the game would be won or lost on the glass. The team that can better control it has the upper hand to control the pace of the game. And we know that no team was slower than the Jazz (30th), while few were faster than the Trail Blazers (13th).
I don’t know how much that’s going to come into play tonight, in the first preseason game of the season. The normal starters will probably play half the game — or less. Star players, like Lillard, may only see action in one quarter. No one is at game speed yet, and that’s when players have the highest chance of injury.
So expect both teams to explore their depth a little more. This is important because both teams have plenty of people in camp — and few spots for them. A big fan of seeing Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert out there? Cool. But tonight you’re likely to see more of Henry Sims and Eric Dawson. Maybe.
I don’t really know.
I do know that the season is fast approaching. And tonight’s game is on in a few hours. And it’s going to be AWESOME to see Dante Exum and Alec Burks back on the court together for the first time since two seasons ago.
Marquee Match-Up: Rodney Hood vs. C.J. McCollum
X-Factor: Guys coming back from injuries
Prediction: The Utah Jazz will look rusty, have a chance to win, but ultimately do not go for it.