Must-Win #2: March 22 at Utah Jazz
This is a similar situation, as the Blazers are just behind the Jazz in the West standings. Few people actually expected Utah to be in this position this late into the season, but they’ve ridden a breakout performance from first-time all-star Lauri Markkanen into the play-in picture.
It’s not going to be easy for them to keep that up, however, as they face the third-toughest remaining schedule in the NBA. Given the Blazers face a similarly difficult slate of games remaining, it’s imperative that the team gets the upper hand against teams of a similar caliber to themselves, given a play-in spot could ultimately come down to tiebreakers if not wins and losses.
The Blazers have won two of the three games they’ve played against the Jazz this year, but neither of their wins came easily. Simons dropped 45 points in early December, while Lillard put up one of his best performances of the year with a 60-burger in late January.
If the Blazers have to repeat a sterling individual performance like they did in those wins they certainly can, but it would benefit the team to attack Utah more as a unit than as an individual. This may also be a game where Portland’s defense carries the team to a win, as Utah ranks 28th in defensive rating since the all-star break.