The Utah Jazz are hunting for 50 wins, and home court in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. In their way tonight are the Portland Trail Blazers - who are hungry and confident at home. What should you look for tonight? We got you covered:
It will be interesting to see how the Jazz fare in this game when it comes to intensity and desire to win, especially with it being a back to back. This is a HUGE game for the Jazz because I am sure that they are going to need to win at least 2/3 of their final games to stay at the 4 spot. That means that they have got to beat the Blazers tonight and then the Spurs on Wednesday and hope that the Clippers lose one of their final 3 games (more on that later). This is going to be a tough game to bring a ton of energy to, just because of the emotional and intense nature of last night’s game and it being a back to back. I have no doubt that the Jazz want to win, I think they will be fired up by the fact that they can get to 50 wins, but I will be interested to see how much they can bring it against a decent and motivated Blazers team (also more on that later).
2. The Shooting Guards
Over the last couple of games the bench has been a bit of a weak link, what am I talking about, the whole year it has been that way. That being said, over the last couple of games it has been particularly bad. This is something to watch for especially tonight because we just played this team a few days ago and this happened. I was at that game and you could feel the momentum shifting after the Jazz got off to such a good start and it felt like Portland could have run away with if a few more of their shots had went in. That is exactly the kind of thing that can kill you on the road against a good team. One might even say that if the Jazz can hold their own in the second quarter, it will be a good indicator on whether they can pull off the win tonight. For that reason alone, I will be focusing on the second quarter and how it turns out.
3. Damian Lillard
After going off for 39 in the season opener this year he has gone 3/19 for 13 points and 5/20 for 16 points respectively. I honestly don’t think it’s because we have “figured him out” or anything like that. He is too good of a player and I am worried that tonight he is going to go off again. It’s human nature for him to want to stick it to us and the Blazers need this win just as much if not more than we do so I think that is a big thing for the Jazz to watch out for tonight. We’ll see if there is a distinct strategy employed by the coaching staff to try to keep him in check tonight, but I think he is the type of player that you just hope he has an off night.
4. The Trail Blazers
This one relates to my first item. The Blazers are on the inside track to get a playoff spot but they by no means have it wrapped up. This is one that they know they need to get and since they didn’t play last night I would think that they might have more energy. It’s not always the case the more rested team has more energy but I would be very surprised if the Blazers came out and let us score the first 9 points like we did on Tuesday, they are going to be fired up and looking to punish our team so that they will check out early.
5. The Clippers
This could be the pivotal day in determining the seeding. We know now that we are going to be playing the Clippers in the first round but if we win tonight and they lose then I think we will be 95% on our way to the 4th seed. Along with the Jazz game I will be watching intently to see if the Spurs can help us out with beating the Clips tonight and giving us a reasonable buffer. Mind you, our final 2 games are not “gimmes” against the Warriors and Spurs (even though it is at home) but a combination of a Jazz win and Clippers loss would make me feel a lot better about our chances of staying at the 4. How ironic is it that 20 years ago from this season we played the Clippers in the first round. Of course, the talent disparity was so much wider at that time but who knows maybe we will sweep them again this year. Whatever happens in this and the last two regular season games, it will be fun to finally enjoy some playoff basketball again next weekend.