I’m going to keep this preview relatively short considering Monday’s tilt in Utah is basically the second of a home-and-home back-to-back, the second home-and-home back-to-back the Blazers have had with Utah this season.
The major benefit of the old home-and-home back-to-back is that less preparation is needed since very little time has elapsed between games. The other major benefit is that the team that loses the first game has extra motivation and the team that wins the first game probably thinks they don’t need to do a whole lot to win the second.
The Blazers are 1-1 in both of their home-and-home back-to-backs in 2012-13 (January 26th and 27th against the LA Clippers and February 1st and 2nd against the Jazz). The good news is that Portland has won the second leg of a home-and-home back-to-back after losing the first (against Utah). The bad news is that both of their wins in those four previous games came at home.
The Blazers dropped the first half of this modified home-and-home back-to-back on Friday in Portland. History says they can win the second round, but it also says they probably won’t.
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF J.J. Hickson, C Meyers Leonard
Jazz Starting 5: PG Mo Williams, SG Randy Foye, SF Gordon Hayward, PF Paul Milsap, C Al Jefferson
There are basically two things for Portland to remember coming into Monday’s game in Salt Lake City.
First, the Blazers need to remember that games are 48 minutes long, good teams like the Jazz with very real things left to play for are going to be locked in from the jump and will stay locked in until the final buzzer. Portland lost on Friday not because they gave up, they lost because they did just enough wrong that Utah could take advantage of. The Blazers can’t expect that this game will be over with three minutes left on the clock because you know their opponent is going to be playing the whole 48.
The second thing Portland needs to do is completely forget that Friday’s game ever happened. Or if not forget the whole thing than at least forget how Friday’s game ended. They need to remember that Al Jefferson is going to pump fake and that Mo Williams likes to have the ball in his hands with the game on the line. They need to remember that the Jazz jump passing lanes so floated passes aren’t a good idea, and they need to remember that even though Utah has Randy Foye, Gordon Hayward, the aforementioned Williams, and Marvin Williams on the roster, this team is going to score more than half of its points in the painted area. Other than that, though, the Blazers need to try as hard as they can to not dwell on the fact that just three days ago they basically gave away their season to this very team.
What to Watch For
- Can the Blazers take care of the ball. Portland’s loss to Utah at the RG last week was highlighted by a slew of costly turnovers. That game included a stretch where the Blazers coughed up the rock on four straight possessions. That can’t happen again if Portland wants to win.
- Will the Blazers be able to stop Mo Williams and/or Al Jefferson. Last Friday, Portland got a solid game from Damian Lillard, and not horrible games from most of the starting five. Those performances paled in comparison to what Utah got from Mo Williams and Al Jefferson, especially from Mo Williams, especially down the stretch. Portland gave that game away with turnovers, but Mo Williams helped with his pretty amazing closing offense. Al Jefferson did most of his damage in the third quarter, but he was solid from start to finish last Friday. Meyers Leonard talked about how hard it is to guard a guy like Jefferson in his post game comments. Hopefully seeing Big Al in two games so close together means Leonard will bite on fewer of his head fakes. As for Lillard and Williams, Dame can defend Mo, but if Williams plays on Monday the way he did on Friday, he’s going to be very very hard to stop.
- Do the Blazers have anything left. Portland is on a short list of teams waiting for the other shoe to drop. Minnesota is yet to be eliminated from contention, the only team in the West behind the Blazers who are mathematically still in it, same goes for the Washington Wizards, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Toronto Raptors. Dallas, Utah, and the Los Angeles Lakers are also fighting to stay alive, but they have a significant advantage over Portland in that they have fewer games to win to get into the playoffs. The Blazers odds are long, they get longer each time they lose. Soon they’re odds will be zero. Does Portland have anything in the tank to keep themselves alive. April is going to be a quick month with no easy games. The Blazers will be lucky to get one win. The longer that one win is in coming, the less likely we’ll actually see it.