The last couple weeks I’ve been just as impressed with the Blazers as the rest of you. Big wins, on the road and at home and over good teams while missing any number of players have all deserved just applause. But we’ve also discussed how Portland has come across a number of those teams at just the right point in the season — teams with injuries of their own, on long road trips, in January slumps and amidst unusual shooting woes. Nothing to discount the wins given the circumstances, but there aren’t many teams that Portland has beat or almost beaten in the last month where you can say, “They were at the top of their game.”
You can probably say that about the Utah Jazz. Winners of seven of their last eight, this is a better Jazz team than the one which smoked the Blazers out of Utah back in November. They’ve gotten themselves into the Top 10 in both offensive and defensive ratings and don’t have any huge glaring weaknesses that Portland is capable of taking advantage of, as they were with Boston’s failures on the defensive glass.
Not that Utah is all that different from previous iterations, just that, for a team that’s always matched up well with the Blazers, they are even better suited for them now. They score the second-most points in the paint per game, which is always a big “WARNING” label with the current set of big men, and they also make your defense work as much as any team in the league. The Jazz move the ball and it’s not only because of Deron Williams that they have the best assist-to-field-goal ratio around. They swing the ball weakside, they work it into the post, they sent cutters down your throat and around your back. Basically, if your defensive rotations — and communication — aren’t on point, the Jazz are capable of shredding you like virgin powder on Mt. Hood.
That’s why this feels like a loss. It’s a league of matchups and the Blazers are standing at the bottom of that hill looking up, with Jack and Jill hurtling at their heads.
Keys to the Game:
Rotate, rotate, rotate: As we mentioned, the Blazers are going to need primary, secondary and even tertiary rotations all night. The first to stop the cutters and Deron Williams, the second to stop the interior assist, the third to close out on the perimeter. It’s a lot to ask of some old legs and young awareness(es?).
Don’t get greedy: The Jazz aren’t the offensive rebounding team you might remember, but they don’t give up a ton of them either. If the Blazers send too many players to the offensive glass, the Jazz have the rebounders and passers to burn them on run outs. The scary thought is imagining this Portland roster without offensive boards…
Third scorer, and make shots: Duh. But the Blazers can’t afford to be missing jumpers if Utah plays it smart and works the paint. The Jazz will cough up a couple possessions, but efficiency remains crucial. The Portland really needs someone *Jerryd Bayless* to help Andre Miller create things within the three-point line. We’ve been seeing Miller wear down at the ends of games, and it’s just not feasible to keep asking him to be a primary option, especially when he’ll be sizing up Williams all evening.