Jay-Z once fascinated me by saying “Men Lie, Women Lie, Numbers Don’t”. This was a reference to rappers beneath him, those who attempted to come at him but had come nowhere near the type of numbers he had put up. (No this isn’t VIBE Magazine). Well if you believe Jay-Z, things are not looking good for Portland tonight in Salt Lake City when they take on the Jazz. Here’s some numbers for you:
- Portland boasts a 2-17 record in Utah since 2001. That’s right they have dropped 17 of their last 19.
- Blazers boast an overall record of 8-30 in the Delta Center/EnergySolutions Arena since it opened in 1991. That’s just regular season too.
- Utah has not lost a home game since a January 4th loss to New Orleans.
- Exactly one week ago, the Jazz stomped Portland at home, opening up the game on a 21-2 run.
Alright let that sink in….moving on. This is a Jazz team that is absolutely on a roll. They are a win or two away from getting that extra attention that streaking teams get on SportsCenter. You know those handful of teams who may not want the All-Star Break to show up just because of how well they have been playing? I would put the Jazz in that category. They are winners of 11 of their last 13 and have found a way to overcome a rough start and threaten for home court advantage out West. As Coup illustrated last week, this team has always been a tough matchup for Portland. But now with our front court depth diminished, you can see how more problems will arise. And the Jazz exploited this fact last Wednesday, getting whatever they wanted in the pain early and often, setting a tone on a night where they ended up shooting 60 percent from the field.
The Jazz have their weapons. There is a reason they lead the league in field goal percentage (49) and it’s because of their discipline. Obviously Deron Williams (19 points, 9.7 assists a game) is a monster. The guy we have to worry about is Paul Millsap. He’s a Blazer-killer and with Boozer out of the lineup he has just turned into something unreal. In the last two games since being inserted into the starting lineup, he’s averaging 28.5 points a game and 11.5 rebounds. Good luck Juwan/Pendergraph/Cunningham. Another guy you want to watch out for is Mehmet Okur. His numbers are down (only averaging 12 points a game compared to 17 last year) but he still is a huge threat with his ability to shoot the ball from the outside and rebound.
Offensively, Portland is going to have to have great discipline. On Wednesday there was a little bit of settling early, almost a ‘wait and see’ vibe. There is a reason Utah was up 21-2. They were getting dunks/layups while we were missing jumpers or getting layups blocked. Portland has to be in attack mode from the start. Utah wants you to shoot jumpers, they will give that up. All of a sudden those misses turn into easy transition for them. LaMarcus Aldridge has to be ready not only for the physical play of Utah’s bigs, but for their defensive schemes. The Jazz did a great job of taking LMA out of a rhythm last week.
Keys to the game
Need a great start: If you take away that nightmarish first quarter from last Wednesday’s game, we actually won by 12. That means that while beating the Jazz is tough, it is not impossible. We will need a good start though. Digging ourselves a hole in Utah is a horrible idea. You know how quickly a 5 point lead can turn into a 12 point lead in that building. As a matter of fact if you remember all the way to our early-season visit to Utah we were staring 11-2 in the eyes in less than three minutes.
Protect the paint: Last Wednesday, Utah owned our soul like they were the Undertaker in the early 90’s. It was a dunk/layup fest early in the first quarter. The Blazers can’t allow Utah to set a tone like that, because as evidenced by last week it could be rough night.
Don’t Let Utah Score 100: What is coinciding with Utah’s recent surge? They are scoring the ball a lot better. They have scored 100 points in 11 of their last 15 games and ended up winning 10 of those games. Get this stat: the Jazz are 17-1 at home when scoring 100 points or more. We need to make this a slugfest.
Beware of the Pick and Roll: Deron Williams attacking, Paul Millsap rolling, Kyle Korver/Okur spotted up. This would cause me nightmares. Let’s pray the Blazers packed their rotating boots.
Need balanced scoring/make shots: Last Wednesday, Rudy/Martell/Blake combined to shoot 6-for-28 from the field. That can’t happen if Portland wants to win in Utah. The win over Charlotte showed that when the bench is playing their butts off, there are few teams that can play with us. The bench needs to show up in a big way tonight. The second part….you can get good looks against this team. You just have to make them if you want to beat them.
This is going to be a tough one for Portland. I’ve been brainwashed because of all the L’s we took in Utah when I was little to just believe we can’t win so pardon my Negative Nancy impersonation. A focused effort on both ends will allow Portland to sneak out with a win. As long as we contain the paint, don’t let Kyle Korver hit a ton of threes and execute for good shots we actually have a shot. I think.