Feb 2, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Utah Jazz point guard Randy Foye (8) shoots as Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) defends at the Rose Garden. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Portland Trail Blazers (33-38) Vs. Utah Jazz (36-36)

This is it for Portland. There is precious little time left in 2012-13 to make something happen, Friday night’s match-up with the Utah Jazz (the first of two games with the Jazz over the next four days) could very well be the Blazers’ last chance to make something more meaningful out of this season than just the Damian Lillard story.

Already, though, there are going to be issues on Friday. LaMarcus Aldridge, who turned an ankle in Portland’s blow-out, feels like the season is over, loss to the Brooklyn Nets has been listed as doubtful for tonight. The Blazers can beat the Jazz without LaMarcus (at least at home, probably not on the road), but it’s going to be very difficult. To square the deal some, Utah will be without Enes Kanter, but in the realm of who is not playing, the advantage definitely leans towards the Jazz.

More than that though, Utah is one of the teams outside the playoff race in the west right now that has a chance at the post season. The Lakers are half a game ahead of the Jazz for eighth, and Los Angeles is battered and bruised, unlikely to cruise into the playoffs. The buzz around Portland is that the playoff race is not over. It’s an exaggeration, but only for the Blazers. The playoff race in the Western Conference, as it stands, is not over. If Utah wins on Friday and the Lakers lose on Saturday, they switch spots. There is a lot on the line for the Jazz.

There’s a lot on the line for Portland too, but there was a lot on the line for the Blazers Wednesday when they faced the Nets. That game was over in the first five minutes. In his post game presser, head coach Terry Stotts mentioned the three offensive rebounds Reggie Evans pulled down in Wednesday’s first few minutes as being important to the game’s eventual outcome. That’s how it went. That how Portland responded to a game they needed to win to have anything like a legitimate chance at catching the Mavericks or the Jazz, let alone the Lakers.

Friday, the Blazers have another chance to prove they have what it takes to make the post season. Hopefully they’re over Wednesday night.

Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF Victor Claver, C J.J. Hickson

Jazz Starting 5: PG Mo Williams, SG Randy Foye, SF Gordon Hayward, PF Paul Millsap, C Al Jefferson

Without LA in Portland’s starting five, the match-ups change quite a bit. The stretch four look has been decent for  the Blazers. Victor Claver needs to start knocking down his threes, but at least he’s getting to the right spots and keeping the floor spread when he’s playing. The problem, of course, is that Vic isn’t going to be able to defend any of Utah’s big guys.

The Nets destroyed Portland inside. Al Jefferson isn’t exactly the player Brook Lopez is, but he’s still the kind of crafty center who gives an impatient defender like J.J. Hickson fits. Both Jefferson and Millsap should, and will, get every kind of look they want.

The back-court match-ups favor the Blazers, Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews have a slight advantage over Randy Foye and Mo Williams. Nicolas Batum shouldn’t have any trouble guarding Gordon Hayward, and hopefully Nic will be able to take advantage of his length and speed to get some easy buckets.

What to Watch For

  • How will Portland start the game. There’s no doubt the Blazers got an earful for their effort Wednesday evening. We’ll have to see if the message took. There has been almost no negative press about this team with regards to their relationship with Stotts. From start to finish this unit has seemed to respond well to everything their head coach has said. Stotts questioned his team’s motivation, effort, and preparedness Wednesday. A young team might respond to that kind of assessment by their coach with anger. Friday will be a big test for the Blazers considering they fell flat on their faces last time they tried to back up their “playoff push” talk. Early indications are that Portland will respond favorably. I say that because both Meyers Leonard and Damian Lillard (two rookies who have yet to really behave like rookies) said exactly what their head coach said. Leonard and Lillard both said they were embarrassed Wednesday night, which is how they should have felt.
  • Who steps up in LA’s absence. LaMarcus has been Portland’s best and most consistent scorer over the second half of the season. Without him, the Blazers will have a lot to make up for on offense. My guess is Damian Lillard has a big night, probably J.J. Hickson too. Big contributions from those two players won’t be enough. Without somebody like Meyers Leonard or Victor Claver stepping up, Portland won’t win.
  • Does Terry Stotts give up, and if yes then when. Wednesday night Stotts threw in the towel early in the fourth quarter. He so completely gave up that when Brooklyn went back to their starters (up 14 with five minutes left) Stotts left his scrub guys in to finish the game. Nobody would blame Stotts if he played his bench most of the night Friday, Portland has a ton of guys who need the minutes. I doubt he’ll tank from the tip, but I bet if this game starts to get out of hand, Stotts will let his second (and third) unit guys play.

@mikeacker | @ripcityproject | [email protected]

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