The Portland Trail Blazers will host Northwest Division rival Utah Jazz in a match that will be looked at by many as a sort-of measuring stick game.
Blazers’ Starting 5 (Stats vs. Warriors): PG Damian Lillard (15 pts, 7 ast), SG Wesley Matthews (14 pts, 2 ast ), SF Nicolas Batum (15 pts, 4 reb, 2 ast), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (18 pts, 2 reb, 2 blk, 1 stl), C J.J. Hickson (6 pts, 3 reb, 1 blk)
Jazz Starting 5 (Stats vs. Clippers): PG Mo Williams (10 pts, 8 ast, 2 stl), F Gordon Hayward (13 pts, 4 ast, 2 reb), F Marvin Williams (18 pts, 8 reb, 4 stl), PF Paul Milsap (12 pts, 9 reb, 3 stl), C Al Jefferson (10 pts, 5 reb, 1 stl)
Utah is the definition of a blue collar team. They have any All-Stars on the team (unless you include Mo Williams, who made an appearance along with LeBron James during their days in Cleveland), yet somehow they’ve managed to string together a roster that will likely put them back in the mix to be one of the lower playoff seeds in the Western Conference. With an offense anchored by their two bigs — Big Al Jefferson and Paul Milsap — the Jazz will likely work inside-out, pounding the ball in the paint and forcing the Blazers to double, where they’ll kick the ball out to one of their open shooters.
As for the Blazers, coach Terry Stotts has shown us the offense he wants to run. Damian Lillard will get the team into their half-court sets, where they’ll likely run that already popular pick-and-pop with LaMarcus Aldridge or try to isolate Wesley Matthews on the wing, where he can
finally create space for his own shot. Portland will also look to force turnovers and get out in transition where they’ve proven to be one of the better teams in the league.
- Al Jefferson vs anyone: The Blazers don’t have an established post defender on the roster (unless you want to include Jared Jeffries), and Big Al Jeff. probably knows that already. That being said, he’s going to eat Meyers Leonard alive in the paint, and will cause huge mismatch problems with the significantly undersized J.J. Hickson. I want to see how coach Stotts will adjust the defense against Jefferson, and whether he’ll opt to bring the double every time or stick to his man-on-man defensive scheme.
- Wesley & Nic vs. Gordon & Marvin: Gordon Hayward and Marvin Williams are solid forwards, but neither of them have shown the ability to put the ball on the floor and make a play. Hayward is more of a spot-up shooter, and we haven’t seen much of anything out of Williams through his floundering days in Atlanta. Portland should have no issues running their iso-based defense with their two wings playing lock-down defense. If they get beat off the dribble tonight, there’s a serious problem.
- Damian Lillard vs. Mo Williams: Mo Williams is one crafty scorer, and the Blazers’ rook is going to have his hands full guarding him. But once the tables are turned and the ball is in Lillard’s hands, Williams will have an equally difficult time stopping the him from getting to the bucket. It’ll be interesting to see the two go back and forth, and if Lillard can finally start knocking down that elbow jumper that he’s started to like.
What To Watch For:
- There are only two more games remaining in the pre-season and both of them are against the Jazz. The players who know they’re safe with a spot on the roster aren’t fretting, but the ones in limbo will be looking to make a big play to earn their keep. Look for Will Barton, Joel Freeland, Victor Claver, Luke Babbit and (hopefully) Nolan Smith to play with a sense of urgency tonight. Their jobs are on the line and they know it.
- Meyers Leonard’s been in foul trouble every game in the pre-season. Let’s see if he’s at all any less aggressive than usual with the thought of picking up an extra foul in the back of his head.
- Aldridge spoke about not rebounding enough following the Blazers’ loss to Golden State. Against two of the better rebounders in the NBA — Milsap and Jefferson — let’s see if he can box out and grab double-digit boards.
Portland competed wholeheartedly against the Warriors on Friday, and even though they lost, there were a lot of positives that I believe will carry over to tonight’s game against the Jazz. The Blazer bench played superb defense in the fourth quarter against Golden State’s starting lineup, and the only reason they lost the game was because of poor offensive execution down the stretch. This is the latter end of the pre-season, which means starters will begin to see the minutes they should expect in the regular season. Portland, playing all-out for the first time this pre-season, should be able to give the Jazz a run for their money, if not come away with a victory tonight.