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Blazers/Jazz Pre-Thoughts


“Back to life…Back to reality….Back to life….Back to reality….”

Nope, this isn’t the late 80’s and Soul II Soul isn’t making a comeback but the words from their most successful US single ring true for the Blazers. After a Twinkie-like stretch which included the Clippers, Bobcats, Bucks and Wizards the Blazers are back to reality. That reality being having to win games against Western Conference playoff contenders. This conference is officially a 9-team race. Over the next week the Blazers will take on teams that will be in the race until the end. On the year Portland is 5-10 against current playoff contenders. For Blazer fans the past week has been one of the more laid-back of the season. Stress-free wins have been the fad of late.

No more.

Tonight the Blazers welcome the Utah Jazz into the Rose Garden. It’s funny how things change during the course of a season. In December going to Utah was as close to a ‘must-win’ as you can get at that point in the season. Going to face the division leaders on the road after a tough road trip. And while tonight’s game is a big game and would be a huge win….there’s a different feel to it. I guess that can be attributed to the Jazz’s struggles. Utah is still incredibly dangerous but are currently vulnerable. Check this out. The Jazz are currently on the outside looking in of the Western Conference playoff picture. Granted they are only out by a 1/2 game but still at this point they are the 9th team in that 9-team playoff race. Added to that is the fact that the Jazz are 5 games out of the Northwest Division lead, 3 games behind the Blazers. Not to mention the fact that Utah’s been atrocious on the road this season with an 8-15 record. To put that in persepective…Minnesota has an 8-14 record. Need I say more? Utah comes into this game having lost 4 of their last 5, that win being a home victory over the Thunder. Pile on the fact that Utah will be without both Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilienko and you can see how things change.

Make no mistake about it though, Utah is still dangerous. You know this, I know this, everyone should know this. It’s the Jazz for pete’s sake, even during the Carlos Arroyo era it was rough. This is a winnable game but it will not be easy at all. Jerry Sloan will have the Jazz prepared for battle. Deron Williams is more than likely licking his chops as the prospect of Sergio guarding him. That pick and roll is still absolutely disgusting with Williams penetrating, Milsap rolling and Korver and Okur spotted up. The real struggle will be containing Utah’s bigs who seem to love having a field day on the Blazers. Paul Milsap and Mehmet Okur. I’ll talk about this later but the Blazers have had absolutely no answer for these guys in the two games so far. Traditionally, Milsap has always caused the Blazers problems. Even when backing up Boozer he’s been a beast and a half. This year against Portland, Milsap is averaging 13.5 and 9 in two games against Portland. Doubly impressive when you consider Boozer was healthy for the first match up. And Okur has been an absolute problem for Portland. He’s averaging 24.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and shooting 64.2% (18-for-28). His biggest weakness is his consistency but against the Blazers he seems to come alive.

Keys to success:

  • Shut down Mehmet Okur. He’s always been the major key even when Boozer and Williams are working in tandem. Tonight the Blazers have got to contain him. Deron Williams and Paul Milsap can only do so much of the work. Utah has a deep bench but not the type of players who can take over a game. Okur can take over a game if you give him the chance as evidenced by the two losses in Salt Lake. Portland can’t give him the chance to get going and have to send him a message early that things won’t be going his way tonight. If he starts hitting three’s and getting offensive rebounds the whole spectrum of the game changes. And now that pick-and-roll becomes almost disgustingly effective. Shut him down and we have a great chance.
  • Score the basketball. This sounds like an absolutely obvious statement but stick with me. In their last 7 losses the Jazz have given up triple figures. If you can find a way to keep scoring the basketball against Utah you’ve got a great chance as their offensively wounded. That doesn’t mean scoring will give the Blazers an automatic win but it will help them immensely. It also won’t be easy considering the pace we play at. But….This isn’t the same defensive Jazz team we’re used to seeing, especially with AK out of the lineup. This is a team that’s given up 100 points 10 of their last 14 games including teams like Indiana, Minnesota and Oklahoma City. Let’s add our names to that list.
  • Let’s get off to a good start. I’ll say this every game until we get it right. This isn’t one of the ‘take care of business’ games we can’t afford to dig ourselves a hole. Let’s see if we’re taking a step in the right direction against tougher competition or if this is developing into an achilles heel.
  • Dominate the battle of the bench. This shouldn’t be close.
  • Win the battle of the boards. We have the personnel to do it against the Jazz’ tough frontcourt…can we finally do it is the big question.
  • Get up for a big game. Utah. Division Rival. Beaten us twice. In the playoff race. Home crowd going crazy. Show. Up. Portland.
  • Make Utah earn everything. Nothing easy. They aren’t shooting well from behind the arc or at the free throw line so let’s not give up layups and let them get in a rhythm.

Pretty big game for Portland. A loss will hand Utah the tie-breaker which could be huge down the stretch. Portland has struggled against Utah this season and against Western Conference powers in general. Let’s start changing that trend and continue Utah’s struggles away from Salt Lake.