Team Records: Portland (12-8) at Utah (11-7)
Game Info: 6 p.m., TV on CSNNW, radio on 750 AM the Game
Vegas Line: Portland -2
Refs: Ron Garretson, Mark Ayotte, Scott Twardoski
The Skinny: Following an easy blowout win over the Suns last Friday, the Blazers travel to Utah to take on one of the NBA’s surprise teams, the Utah Jazz. The Jazz have gone 10-4 since opening the season 1-3. While some of this is no doubt due to their home-heavy early schedule (they have played 12 home games versus only 7 road games), they are still yet another tough foe in what is fast becoming the NBA’s deepest division.
Last Season: Portland won the season series 3-1. Portland won the last three games the teams played last season, and a win on Monday would tie the record for most consecutive regular season wins by Portland over Utah.
Projected Jazz Lineup:
PF: Paul Millsap (Louisiana Tech, 6th season) – 17.5 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 2 APG
SF: Gordon Hayward (Butler, 2nd season) – 8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.2 APG
C: Derrick Favors (Georgia Tech, 2nd season) – 7.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG, .3 APG
SG: CJ Miles (Skyline (HS), 7th season) – 10.1 PPG, 2 RPG, .9 APG
PG: Devin Harris (Wisconsin, 8th season) – 9.1 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 4.6 APG
Player to Watch: Paul Millsap (pictured at right) – Two years ago Portland signed Paul Millsap to an offer sheet and although Utah matched the offer, it is easy to see why the Blazers wanted him. Millsap is one of the top mid-range shooters in the NBA and can also finish around the rim. Although he can’t create his own shot (nearly all of his attempts are assisted), he still has the ability to get in the right place to catch a pass in perfect scoring position. He is an excellent rebounder and does a good job staying in front of the opposition on defense. Where he struggles, however, is that he does not possess particularly long arms, so he does not block shots and struggles on defense against players with length. Still, Millsap had a career year last year and has shown no signs of regressing this season, sporting a PER of 25.75, good for fourth in the NBA behind only LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant.
Did You Know?: The Jazz are one of only three teams to have never lost 60 games in a season. (The other two are the NY Knicks and the LA Lakers.)
Portland: Out – C Greg Oden (knee)
Utah: Out- SG Raja Bell (Abductor), Doubtful- PF/C Al Jefferson (Ankle).
So, how is Utah doing it? How are they suddenly such a good team? The answer lies in their offense. While the Utah defense holds opponents around 45% shooting and 96 points per game in both wins and losses, their offense is far less consistent. In wins, the Jazz shoot 48.9% from the field and score 100.1 points per game while in losses they shoot only 40.5% from the field and score 92.1 points per game. The secret to this differential is whether the Jazz distribute the ball well on offense or not as they average four more assists per game in wins than losses. As a young team, the Jazz tend to panic when things go poorly and it snowballs, and they do not tend to close games well, being outscored most of the time in the fourth quarter. Still, if the Jazz can build a good lead through three, they can usually hang on and win. They may not be the Jazz of old but they are still a tough bunch to face.
The Bottom Line:
Portland wins if: They make Utah rely on isos on offense. The key to Utah’s offense, especially Millsap’s, is passing. If Portland can force Utah to beat them one-on-one, they will probably be able to walk out with a win.
Utah wins if: They do well from deep. Utah has a bench full of good three-point shooters. If they can take and make a good number of three-pointers, they should be able to end Portland’s streak over them at three.