The Phoenix Suns walk off the court in SLC after losing to the Jazz in a "play-in" game. Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

Game 66 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers At Utah Jazz

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Blazers: 28-37 (4th Northwest Division)

Jazz: 35-30 (3rd Northwest Division)

Game Details: EnergySolutions Arena Salt Lake City, UT 5:00 PM. TV: CSN. Radio: KXTG (750 AM)

Projected Blazer Starting Lineup: PG Nolan Smith (#2, 6′2”, Duke), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5”, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6’8″, MSB LE Mans, France), PF J.J. Hickson (#21, 6’9”, North Carolina State), C Hasheem Thabeet (#34, 7’3”, Connecticut)

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

I closed my Spurs recap saying that Portland/Utah was going to be a very important for the Jazz, implying that we’d see yet another game in which the Blazers have nothing to play for but their opponent does, and once again Portland will fail to show up.

I may have been off by one game. Utah’s really really important game happened Tuesday night.  That night (one night ago as I write this, two nights ago when the Jazz and Blazers take the court for their 66th and 66th games of 2011-12 respectively) Utah dispatched the Phoenix Suns 100-88, and clinched the final Playoff seed in the Western Conference.

Utah can do no better than eighth, due to a Nuggets victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday evening in OKC, so for all intents and purposes, Thursday night’s game means nothing to the Utah Jazz. In fact, my guess is Utah will probably rest as many of their regular guys in an attempt to avoid any untimely injuries.

I don’t imagine Utah will be able to do much damage against their first round opponent, the San Antonio Spurs, but that doesn’t mean you want to put your key players in harms way to spend 48 minutes whipping the Blazers.

So what does a Utah team with nothing to play for playing a Blazer team with even less to play for mean for Blazer fans? Unfortunately not much. There’s a chance Thursday will be the final Blazer games for J.J. Hickson, Jonny, Flynn, Hasheem Thabeet, Craig Smith, Jamal Crawford, Raymond Felton, and Nicolas Batum.

Felton, Crawford, and Batum may or may not play. If Batum isn’t retained, I feel like maybe Portland should just cancel the 2012-13 season. I imagine Hickson will be a hotly debated off-season commodity; maybe Jamal Crawford too. As for Flynn, Thabeet, and the Rhino, their time with the Blazers will probably end Thursday with little to no fanfare. Felton: well we’ll all deal with that when the time comes.

I can imagine the Blazers will be motivated by finishing a horrible season with a win, whether or not that will have an effect on Thursday’s outcome is up for debate. Against Utah’s second or third team, Portland should have a chance. Against Utah’s starters, probably not so much. There’s really nothing more to it than that.

One of the more unique elements of this lockout shortened season is the short turnaround from the end of the regular season to the start of the Playoffs. The regular season ends for everybody tomorrow. The Playoffs start Saturday. That means Blazer fans don’t have to stew for too long watching TNT and ESPN and ABC hype the Playoffs before we actually get a chance to watch what should be pretty exciting basketball.

I can’t say that I haven’t enjoyed parts of 2011-12, but I can say that I’m glad that we’ve just got the one game left.

One thing to watch for:

  • What happens with the Blazer broadcast: Ben from Blazersedge put The Oregonian on blast for taking a couple of days off (like the rest of us did) and outsourcing some work. Mike and Mike didn’t miss an opportunity to also stick it to the Big O for not showing up. The beat guys will have their boots on the ground in Utah Thursday. Let’s see what the Mikes have to say about that. Barrett and Rice are company guys (literally). The Oregonian guys aren’t on the payroll, but in a lot of ways they too represent the company (I hope saying that isn’t controversial to anybody). A little friendly ribbing between colleagues isn’t uncommon, but there’s absolutely no way the Blazers’ TV guys are ever going to admit that this season is one worth giving up on.

Email me: [email protected]

Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject

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Tags: Blazers Jazz

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