(Let’s see if I can get through these pre-thoughts without expressing my hatred towards the Jazz.)
All jokes aside, this is it people. This is the beginning of the stretch run for Portland. Only nine games remain and after tonight there will only be three more home games. We find out during this nine game stretch what this team is made of. And more importantly we’ll find out exactly where (or if, I ain’t not no jinx) they’ll be playing in the post-season. The gap between the #5 seed and the #7 seed is non-existent. A loss will drop you to facing San Antonio faster than Denise Richards’ career fell off. Tonight’s game is a must-win game for Portland in every sense of the word. If they want to keep the #5 or aspire to sneak up on the #4 or *gasp* win the division, they will have to separate themselves from Utah. It is as cut and dry as that. Tonight, the Blazers have the good luck of facing the Jazz and having the ability to control their own destiny. A win puts you up a full game. And with road games in Houston and San Antonio, a cushion would be lovely. Tonight kind of reminds me of the college game. You know, late in the season, two teams on the bubble and they face each other. It’s kind of like that… except we’re both going to the playoffs.
The bad news? Utah is completely healthy. No broken down Jazz squad coming into the Rose Garden. Carlos Boozer is back, Okur is back, Williams is at full strength. That means the pick-your-poison pick and roll will return. Williams attacking, Boozer rolling with two shooter spotted up?!?! Ew. The worse news? They come in on a tear. The Jazz have won 20 of their last 25 games since the January 31st beatdown they took in the Rose Garden. All in all the Jazz are back to being the Jazz. Deron Williams has been playing unconscious as of late. In his last 5 games he’s averaging 22.6 points, 11.8 assists and shooting 50% from the field. Yes, 50% ladies and gentlemen. What’s scary is he’s been putting up those kind of stats for the last 3 months. Boozer is back in a big way, averaging 15 and 11 boards on the month. He’s also averaged 36.6 minutes in their past 5 games so any talk of him not being back should be put to rest. Then you’ve got the rest of the crew…Okur (Blazer killer), Korver and company round this team. They play hard, they play smart and I absolutely cannot stand them. I think I made it 300+ words without dropping that so kudos to me.
There is a bright sun people. The great news about the Jazz? They are a horrible, horrible, road team. It is the main reason they are stuck in the 5-6-7 logjam and not perched up at #3 or #4. 14-21 is their road record. If you’re one of those people who like persepective, check this out: New Jersey has a road record of 15-22 and they are currently the #12 team in the Eastern Conference. Ooooh, mama. To add to this terrible record, ladies and gentlemen they have zero quality road wins. Of their 14 road wins, only 1 has come against a team with an above .500 record. That was Philadelphia and that win came in November. Against Western Conference playoff contenders they are 0-for-9.
Keys to success:
- Get off to a great start. If we can get off to a great start and set the tone early, good things will more than likely happen. This has been a neat new trend of the Blazers, lets see if they can keep it up.
- Be physical and dictate. You’re going to have to be ready to handle some physicality in the playoffs. Utah is one of the most physical teams in the league. The Blazers are going to have to be ready to punch the Jazz right in the mouth instead of the other way around. It will not be easy but it is possible. We’ve seen the Blazers answer the bell at times this year but also seen them get tossed around. That can’t happen tonight. The same approach from the Memphis game needs to be brought over, except the knob needs to be turned up about 10 degrees. The intensity has to be there on both ends of the court.
- Shut down Mehmet Okur. I fully anticipate Deron Williams running rampant all over the Blazers defense. I really do, he was a one-man show last game and it will be even worse now that his full cast is back. No offense but after what Andre Miller did the other night, and when you consider D-Will > Andre Miller…yeah. I have confidence in Big Joel that his size can fluster Boozer. If he can stay out of foul trouble. Man #1 who worries me is Mehmet Okur. In the 3 games against Portland, Okur is averaging 22.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and has shot 62.8% (22-for-35). This is the guy who worries me. He’s the #3 option and if we can find a way to shut him down we have a great shot. But you all know if he knocks down a few shots or gets some offensive rebounds, that pick and roll becomes that much tougher. Okur’s success will correlate with the Blazers success tonight.
- Win the battle of the boards. This is a battle of some beefy frontlines. Boozer, Okur and Milsap all can do damage on the boards. Milsap in particular always finds a way to sneak in there against Portland, averaging 3.6 offensive rebounds in the three contests on the year. Big Joel, Oden and LMA are going to have to rebound the ball. The guards will have to help out. We keep them under 10 offensive rebounds we should be good.
- Watch out for Korver. Against Portland, the Mormon girls wet dream (can I say that? I did.) hasn’t really shown up at all. In the three contests he’s shot 5-for-16 (31.2%) from the field and a rough 3-for-10 (30%) from behind the arc. In the last five games he’s 9-for-16 from deep (56.2%) and along with Milsap can cause problems if you let them.
- Score the ball/make this a Chalupa night. The first is obvious, we will win if we score more points than the Jazz. The second one is more interesting. Check out this number: 12-24. That’s Utah’s record when they give up 100+ points. It’s a lot to ask for but if the Blazers can make the fans happy, I’m pretty sure they will be happy with the results.
- Win the battle behind the arc. Kind of ties in with Korver but other than Okur and Korver, the Jazz can’t shoot the three-ball. Brewer and AK are in the 20′s, I will gladly have Deron Williams, Ronnie Price or CJ Miles shooting three’s. This is a big advantage. So lock your guns Rudy, Blake, Batum…hell even you can make a couple Travis.
It would be shocking to see the Blazers not come out ready for this big game. It is going to be a tough battle, but a battle that if the Blazers can definitely win. The only question is will they? I expect a playoff-like atmosphere for a playoff-like game. We’ll see if the Blazers have that playoff-like game in them.