March 31, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson (25) controls the ball against the defense of Los Angeles Clippers power forward Kenyon Martin (2) during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

Game 54 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Utah Jazz


 

Blazers: 25-28 (4th Northwest Division)

Jazz: 27-26 (3rd Northwest Division)

Game Details: Rose Garden Portland, OR. 7:00 PM. TV: CSN. Radio: 750 AM (KXTG)

Projected Blazers Starting Lineup: PG Raymond Felton (#5, 6’1”, North Carolina), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5”, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6’8”, MSB Le Mans, France) PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11”, Texas), C Joel Przybilla (#10, 7’1”, Minnesota)

Projected Jazz Starting Lineup: PG Devin Harris (#5, 6’3”, Wisconsin), SG C.J. Miles (#34, 6’6”, Skyline High School), SF Gordon Hayward (#20, 6’8”, Butler), PF Paul Millsap (#24, 6’8”, Louisiana Tech), C Al Jefferson (#25, 6’10”, Prentiss High School)

Here we go again, right.  Tonight the Blazers once again have the chance to get better by losing or get worse by winning. I said I wasn’t going to talk about tanking vs. Playoffs anymore, and I’ll stick to it. Instead I’ll focus on something not many people have talked about, but will probably become more central to the narrative if/when Portland is officially eliminated from Playoff contention. And that’s playing the part of spoiler.

The Jazz are one of the few teams on the outside of the Playoff picture that can still play their way in. Right now they’re sitting all alone in the 9th spot, one game behind Houston and a half a game ahead of Phoenix. If the Jazz beat the Blazers tonight and the Bulls beat the Rockets then Utah and Houston will have identical records, and then the race for the eighth spot is on for real.

If Blazer fans can’t get motivated for a win because a Playoff shot seems unrealistic, being the team (or one of the teams) that keeps a division rival from the post season might be a legitimate reason to root for a Portland win.

There’s more to Monday’s game for Portland than just ruining Utah’s off season. The Blazers haven’t won back-to-back games since the end of January, tonight they have a chance to break that streak and get the first back-to-back victories of the Kaleb Canales era.

Back-to-back wins would be great, you know what else would be great, LaMarcus Aldridge and J.J. Hickson having another good game against another good front court. Utah’s Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are a combination not unlike what Portland has in their power forward and center positions. Joel Przybilla is listed as likely, so J.J. won’t be starting, but if the recent past is any indication, Hickson will get a boat-load of minutes tonight, probably a lot of those minutes at the four with LA at the five. If Portland wants to compete in the future, the Hickson/Aldridge tandem will have to consistently beat guys like Big Al and Paul Millsap.

Portland plays Utah three times in April, so these teams will have plenty of time to get to know each other. The Blazers finish out their season in Salt Lake City on the 26th of this month. On that day there is a pretty good chance the Playoff fates of both Portland and Utah will be sealed. If the Blazers want to have a real impact on the post season proceedings, tonight might just be one of their last chances.

Here are a couple things I’ll be watching for:

  • Will the Blazers play better without Jamal Crawford: Jamal is out tonight with tendonitis. He hasn’t played well in the last few weeks, so maybe with him out of the lineup, Portland will have a little more overall efficiency.
  • Luke Babbitt’s consistency: Luke is shooting the ball really well lately, if he can keep it going tonight, he’ll give Portland a big boost. The test will be whether or not he beats Gordon Haywood head-to-head.
  • Portland’s bench as a whole: The bench has looked good in the last ten games. Without Jamal one of the big scorers is taken out of the mix, but so is one of the volume shooters/ball stoppers. Johnny Flynn might get some more offense to himself, as will Luke Babbitt, those guys have both been good. Let’s see if that continues.

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Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject

Tags: Blazers Jazz