Blazers: 12-8 (4th Northwest Division)
Jazz: 11-7 (3rd Northwest Division)
Game Details: EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, UT. 6:00 PM. TV: CSN. Radio: KXTG (750 AM)
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Raymond Felton (#5, 6’1”, North Carolina), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5″, Marquette), SF Gerald Wallace (#3, 6’7″, Alabama), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11″, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6’11″, UMass)
Projected Utah Starting Lineup: PG Devin Harris (#5, 6’3”, Wisconsin), SG Raja Bell (#19, 6’5”, Florida International), SF Gordon Hayward (#20, 6’8”, Butler), PF Paul Millsap (#24, 6’8”, Louisiana Tech), C Al Jefferson (#25, 6’10”, Prentiss High School, Monticello, Mississippi)
It’s been two days since the epic Phoenix Suns beat-down. It should be a distant memory by now. In my mind, that means one thing: it’s put up or shut of time for Portland, and there should be no excuses, regardless of the outcome.
The Blazers have followed up a 3-0 December with what is now a 9-8 January. Their trip to Salt Lake City is the final outing of the month. A win gives Portland a winning January; a loss drops them to .500 on the month. Not only that, the Jazz are a division opponent. A win tonight will put the Blazers ahead of Utah in the Division, and give them the early advantage in the season series, something that will be huge come Playoff time. If every game is a must-win, which I think I have said it is, then Monday in SLC is a must must win.
Portland split two preseason meetings with the Jazz, swapping home victories, and do not have a stellar record at EnergySolutions. It’s not quite at the Oakland level, but from the end of 2001 to the end of 2010, the Blazers have beaten the Jazz in Utah only twice. In their last 20 meetings in Salt Lake, Portland is 4-16.
Luckily for the Blazers, two of those four wins came on their last two regular season trips to Utah. This is a different team than the one that has dominated this rivalry over the last decade. It’s a different team than the 21-10 Jazz Portland nipped by five back in December of 2010 to start this two-game winning streak they’re currently on. the Blazers should feel like they can win this game.
And how do they do it? Realize that at all five starting positions, and at most of the bench positions, they have a distinct advantage, play their game (something I feel like I always say), and make some jump shots. LaMarcus Aldridge is going to have his work cut out for him, being defended by and having to defend Paul Millsap, but guys like Raymond Felton, Gerald Wallace, Wesley Matthews, and Nicolas Batum should be able to get the shots they want against smaller and/or less athletic defenders. Raja Bell is a notorious defensive stopper, but he is questionable for tonight’s game. Even if he is in, he probably can’t stop Gerald Wallace.
Bench play is going to be a big factor too. Utah isn’t the deepest bench, but they do have some guys that can do some damage. C.J. Miles is a Blazer killer from three, Josh Howard is a far cry from what he was but can still be a scorer, and Earl Watson is about as serviceable as you can get from a 10-year back-up PG. Portland isn’t going to get a chance to relax at all against this team.
I did say after the Phoenix game that the Blazers should probably go ahead and ignore that game tape. I’m changing my mind. They shouldn’t watch it to learn anything, but they should watch it to see their body language in the midst of a blowout. This team seems to get tight and miss shots when games or close. In Friday’s dismantling of a “professional basketball team,” every Blazer was relaxed, and for a couple of stretches everything went it. If Portland can carry that demeanor over, they might just be able to get a big road win, something January has sorely lacked.
Here’s what I’m watching for:
- Gerald Wallace: No need to say why. I’ll be listing him until he has himself a good road game.
- Raymond Felton: Again, no need to explain, except just subtract the word game from the above sentence.
- Rotation: Coach Nate McMillan went with a shorter lineup against Phoenix, and limited the number of minutes given to Craig Smith to mop-up time in the fourth. The Suns have no front line to speak of, so that move made sense. Utah has a few bigger bodies on their roster. Hopefully Rhino get some touches, I feel like the Blazers are starting to need his scoring with the second unit, plus he needs to stay hot, and that can only be done by giving him the ball and letting him work.
- CAN PORTLAND WIN ON THE ROAD: No better time than the present.
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