Season slipping away
The Portland Trail Blazers know that it’s going to take a serious winning streak to keep their hopes of the postseason alive. The ugly loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday was a giant leap in the wrong direction, and you have to wonder what this team’s chances of the playoffs are at this point in the process.
Matchup: Portland (33-38) vs. Utah Jazz (36-36)
Venue: Rose Garden Arena
Time: 7:00 PM PT
Date: Friday, March 29, 2013
With the Utah Jazz coming to town, it’s a prime opportunity to take down one of the teams in the way of making the postseason. The question is, would fans prefer a spot in the playoffs over a spot in the lottery; and the bigger question is, how does the organization feel about a draft pick versus a date with the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs?
Game Notes/How They Match Up
The Trail Blazers are entering Friday night embarrassed following their showing against the Brooklyn Nets; and if they aren’t, they should be. Portland let the previous game get away from them early, and it had everything to do with their efforts in the paint.
We’ve known all season long that Portland struggles against bigger, stronger opponents, but Reggie Evans and Brook Lopez put that on full display. The two of them were establishing themselves inside on offense, and whenever a loose ball was up for grabs, they claimed it as their own.
The Utah Jazz don’t have the overall size of Brooklyn’s frontcourt, but they do have the toughness to challenge Portland from start to finish.
Both Utah and Portland are fighting for the No. 8 spot out West. The problem is that they’re both on the outside looking in at this juncture, and unless one of them can pull away over the final three weeks, both should expect a spot in the lottery rather than a spot in the playoffs.
What to Watch: Portland
The scouting report entering Wednesday night’s game against the Nets was to crash the boards and to not let them establish their offense on the inside. Portland ignored both of those key concepts, and as a result, the game was decided early.
With Utah coming to town, the Blazers once again have to worry about an inside presence. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap won’t exactly torch you above the rim, but rebounding is going to be crucial against the physical-natured Jazz.
If Portland allows the two bigs to collect rebounds at a rate anywhere near what Reggie Evans did on Wednesday, the home team is in for another long night.
What to Watch: Utah
It can’t be hammered home enough that you have to watch this team and how it plays on the inside.
The Brooklyn Nets have written the blueprint on how to beat the Trail Blazers. Teams have known it for a while now, but Wednesday night showed that the team from Rip City simply has no answer when it comes to low-post dominance. The team from out East ranks just 17th in points in the paint, yet it put up 74 points in that category on Wednesday.
The Jazz, on the other hand, are a top-10 team when it comes to scoring down low, and if they’re smart, they’ll work the ball down low all game long.
LaMarcus Aldridge and J.J. Hickson are both questionable for Friday’s game, meaning that Meyers Leonard, the 7’1″ youngster who normally comes off the bench, could see some heavy minutes. Pulling down rebounds and staying physical will be the agenda, and allowing put-back opportunities is the easiest way to give up easy points.
If LaMarcus Aldridge and J.J. Hickson are unable to play, the key matchup slides all the way down to the point guard position. Damian Lillard versus Mo Williams isn’t the most intriguing battle, but how each player performs could have a direct impact on the result for each team.
Both guards have a shoot-first mentality, but only one of them should put that on display in this one. Utah needs to attack the middle, which means Williams needs to looks for his bigs. Portland, potentially without its starting frontcourt, needs points, and that’s what Damian Lillard will look to provide.
Portland: DAY-TO-DAY—LaMarcus Aldridge, J.J. Hickson
Utah: Doubtful—Enes Kanter
Portland won the last time these two met at the Rose Garden, but Utah is the one that has the better chance of making the postseason. Motivation will play a key role in this contest, and the Jazz could have the edge in that category.