Game 79 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz

Blazers: 45-33

Jazz: 37-41

Game Details: Energy Solutions Arena, Salt Lake City, UT. 7:30 PM. TV: TNT. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM).

Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6’3″, Utah), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5″, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6’8″, France), PF Gerald Wallace (#3, 6’7″, Alabama), C LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11″, Texas)

Projected Utah Starting Lineup: PG Devin Harris (#5, 6’3″, Wisconsin), SG Raja Bell (#19, 6’5″, Florida International), SF C.J. Miles (#34, 6’6″, Skyline High School), PF Paul Millsap (#24, 6’8″, Louisiana Tech), C Al Jefferson (#25, 6’10”, Prentiss High School)

This late in the season, the only way to move on from Tuesday’s blowout loss to the Warriors is to pretend it never happened. There’s nothing the Blazers can take away from that game that will be relevant going forward. Golden State has given Portland problems for years. The Blazers had a bad night. It happens to everybody.

Let’s move on, then, to tonight’s opponent, the once-formidable Utah Jazz. The Jazz looked to be right in the discussion with Portland, Denver, and Oklahoma City in the Northwest Division, until the shock of legendary coach Jerry Sloan’s resignation was topped only by the shock at the out-of-nowhere dealing of superstar point guard Deron Williams to New Jersey at the trading deadline. New point guard Devin Harris has been solid but not spectacular in Williams’ place, and the Jazz’ heralded offseason acquisition, center Al Jefferson, has been inconsistent in his first season with Utah. Both Harris and forward Andrei Kirilenko are questionable to play tonight due to injury, and the rest of Utah’s rotation consists of the likes of Paul Millsap (terrific scorer who rebounds below average for a power forward), much-hyped Williams trade centerpiece Derrick Favors (still finding his footing), and role players like Raja Bell and C.J. Miles.

On paper, the Blazers should win this game even with Marcus Camby out with a back injury. However, they were supposed to beat the Warriors on paper too. Last night, San Antonio locked up the top seed in the Western Conference, making it all the more imperative that Portland  not drop any more games. If the season ended today, the Blazers would face the Lakers in the first round, and who wants that? If they win out, it is likely they’ll be locked into sixth place and a first-round draw of Dallas or Oklahoma City, both far more preferable options to LA. There are only four games left in the regular season and absolutely no room for error now.

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