What’s the best recipe for a team after a humbling — some might say humiliating — home loss to a sub-.500 team? Definitely not a trip to Salt Lake City, that’s for sure. Slight history lesson here. The Blazers have dropped 14 of their last 16 games in Salt Lake City. That dates all the way back to 2001. Going back even further in the history books all the way to 1986, the Blazers have dropped 27 of their last 36 regular season visits to Salt Lake City. The land of Mormons absolutely haunts me and if you follow us you know this.
That being said, this isn’t your mom and pop’s Jazz team. Utah comes into tonight at 8-7 with a somewhat suspicious 5-3 home record. Those three home losses were a blowout loss to Houston and losses to Sacramento and Oklahoma City. So, yes, shove that in the face of my history. This season the Jazz lack their trademark depth. Thanks to injuries to Kyle Korver and Matt Harpring, the Jazz’s second unit is not as strong as in year’s past. As a matter of fact, Jerry Sloan is starting a…*gasp* rookie in Wes Matthews, which I’m sure is shaving years off of his life. What the Jazz lack in depth they make up for in balance. Six players averaging double figures in points for Utah. Carlos Boozer (19.5), Deron Williams (19.2), Mehmet Okur (14.2), Andrei Kirilenko (13.9), Ronnie Brewer (11.7) and Paul Millsap (10.5). For Kirilenko it is his highest point production since the 05-06 season.
They also aren’t playing anything close to resembling what Sloan would want on defense, allowing 107.4 points per 100 possessions. Otherwise they aren’t too unlike the Blazers, but drift much closer to average in most categories, playing slow while scoring at a decent clip and falling in the middle 20 range in offensive and defensive rebounding rates.
Portland’s pick-and-roll defense will not be tested, as the Jazz are relying more on off-ball screens and action sets, keeping guys in motion for Williams to find off penetration. This focus makes them the second best team in the league in assists-per-field-goal-made with the fifth-best assist-to-turnover ratio. If the Blazers aren’t playing good peripheral help defense, they are going to get burned for a lot of easy buckets and open mid-range shots (Jazz aren’t great from three). Utah is also one of the best scoring teams in the paint, but coupled with their passing Oden and Aldridge will need to stay mobile inside, otherwise they could both pick up cheap fouls trying to recover late on defense. Oden won’t be guarding too many players one-on-one in the post tonight.
Aldridge will. Utah’s perimeter defenders are slightly overrated, but Roy will still draw the attention of more than one of them often. Oden needs early touches in the post, too, but if Aldridge can’t at least keep pace with the Boozer/Millsap combo and keep Millsap off the offensive boards, the Blazers will be climbing uphill all night save for their usual bailout plan of perimeter shooting.
Keys to the Game:
-Live in the paint, die in the paint. The Jazz will eat the Blazers up inside if Portland doesn’t maintain a balanced attack, one that hopefully stats inside rather than using jumpers to open things up for Oden/Aldridge. Even then, outside-inside would be better than the outside-outside game we saw against Memphis. Portland gets behind or loses leads when they start missing jumpers and don’t go inside, and Utah is primed to take advantage of any potential runs those stretches allow.
-Stay mobile. Stay Aware. Talk. Utah doesn’t do a ton of one-on-one ball watching on offense. Someone is always in motion, which means someone will always be ready to catch Oden off guard inside. The guards need to talk and let the bigs know who is coming across the paint. And most of all, Williams is going to get by Blake no matter what, and Oden/Aldridge will have to help off, so that secondary help defender — Martell or Roy — has to be ready to shade down and tip drop-off passes.
-Don’t play Blake Run with the lineups that are working. Go to the hot hand. Portland has been kind of hit or miss when it comes to this, for both coaching and personnel reasons, and they can’t afford to willingly relinquish momentum. Webster has had many good nights against Utah, so it would be wise to see what he has early after establishing the paint game, but if Oden or Aldridge are having success going one-on-one in the post against Utah’s weak interior defenders, then pound it back in to them again and again. Roy can only benefit.
Win tonight and last night gets completely erased. Lose tonight and everyone goes back to thinking about Memphis. Since Portland has typically responded well to rough nights, I’m guessing they’ll come out with a lot of pride in Utah.