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Utah Jazz at Portland Trail Blazers Game Preview

Game 55: Jazz (27-27) @ Trail Blazers (28-27)
Location: Moda Center • Portland, OR
Time: 7:00 p.m. (MT)
TV: ESPN / ROOT Sports • Radio: 1280 AM / 97.5 FM

Bragging rights
Bragging rights
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Utah Jazz and the Portland Trail Blazers have a history together. They've played 174 regular season games against one another, and six playoff series against one another. And as a Jazz fan, it's not always ended well. Utah is 96-80 overall in the regular season, but only 2-4 in the playoffs with a 12-19 record in those games. In my mind the Blazers have been in the way of the Jazz on some very important occasions. For example, they pretty much shut the door down on our guys after the NBA Finals era back when the team still sported John Stockton, Jeff Hornacek, Bryon Russell, Karl Malone, and company. Utah lost to Portland in the 2nd round in 1999 and 2000. A lot of Jazz fans probably think that their team would have defeated the New York Knicks or Indiana Pacers if they made the Finals again -- but they didn't have a chance. Not with the Blazers in the way. They could be in the way of the Jazz again, this season.

The Blazers are 2nd in the Northwest division and are 7th in the West with a 0.5 game lead on the Jazz, who are 3rd and 9th respectively. These two teams split the season series last year, but this year the Blazers are already 1-2, with tonight's game being in their gym. They've historically housed the Jazz in Portland, holding a 28-60 regular season record there. If the Jazz can win tonight they tie the season series, and that is one of the first tie-breakers when determining playoff position.

Yes, Playoffs. I'm talking about playoffs.

In the three games these two teams have played this year, Utah has gotten blasted by Damian Lillard and C.J. McCullum. Those two guys have accounted for 130 points in three games, and in one of those games Lillard didn't play. Damian has averaged 28.00 ppg, and C.J. 24.67 ppg against the Jazz defense this year. Injuries have hurt the Jazz all season long, and they are still without Dante Exum and Alec Burks -- in my mind the best PG and SG defenders on the team. That's a contributing factor for sure, Exum has missed all three games, and Burks has played in only one.

It's going to be up to Raul Neto, Trey Burke, Rodney Hood, and company to step up tonight on defense. If Shelvin Mack is active, I can see Quin Snyder going to him early and often. His length (though, not his East-West speed) should make a difference against these two guys. Hopefully.

On the other side of things, the Jazz should own the paint with Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, and Trevor Booker -- but we may be making more adjustments than normal, and it's possible Trey Lyles is going to have to play more tonight. Portland has a lot of stretch bigs: Meyers Leonard (3.94 3PTA, 34.39 3PT%) has deep range, while Mason Plumlee, Noah Vonleh, and possibly Al-Farouq Aminu (in a "going small" line-up) can draw defenders out all over the court.

This is, indeed, a bad match-up for the Jazz. And I don't think that we've seen Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood take control yet. The advantage should be inside, and on the wings. I really hope we see some of that tonight.

2015 2016 GM 55 UTA at POR - Blazers Player Stats

2015 2016 GM 55 UTA at POR - Jazz Player Stats

When you look at the teams, Portland is good on offense. They are 7th in ORTG and 8th in PPG. They play at the 18th fastest pace, and are exception at making shots (including threes), and they are 3rd best in the league at crashing the offensive boards. They're not perfect. They foul a lot and don't get to the line a lot. (Knock on wood.) But they are good on the glass on defense as well.

For the Jazz they have to go strength vs. strength on the glass, and slow the game down. They will require the Blazers to miss some shots tonight, or either rotate way better than usual. Utah did knock off the #3 team in the East a few nights back. I hope they play with the same intensity tonight and effort.

This is an important game for both teams. And it's been a while since I wrote a game preview for something like that.