Utah Jazz at Portland Trail Blazers
Time: 9 PM ET (NBA League Pass)
Spread: POR -3.5
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Portland Trail Blazers have been one of the more pleasant surprises this NBA season, and the Utah Jazz have played to about the level most expected. The result, however, is that this meeting is between two teams very much fighting for their playoff lives.
The Blazers currently sit No. 7 in the Western Conference while the Jazz trail them by just half a game. Portland will host the game as 3.5 point favorites and it will air at 9 PM Eastern on NBA League Pass.
Portland is riding a four-game win streak that has hardly featured powder puff opponents. The Blazers have most recently knocked off the Houston Rockets (twice), Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors. The win over the Warriors was a decisive blowout, but in the direction most would have not suspected. Portland won 137-105 to hand Golden State just its fifth loss of the season. Damian Lillard scored a career high 51, giving a nice “screw you” nod to all the coaches who left him off this year’s All-Star team.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr even said he looked “like Steph,” which is appropriate considering his shooting prowess. Lillard knocked down 18 of 28 from the field and hit nine three pointers. His backcourt mate C.J. McCollum was hardly quiet either, scoring 21 points on 9 of 18 shooting. The Blazers led by just seven points at the half but came out and out-scored the Warriors 36-17 in the third quarter.
Portland may have lost four of its five starters over the offseason, but with the right tinkering Portland can be better than where it was before it lost LaMarcus Aldridge. Perhaps it was even clear that iteration of the Blazers was not good enough to get over the hump, but the pieces intact could lead to a windup for something far greater.
On Portland’s checklist of pieces to add will be some frontcourt defense, but it is carving its identity as a team with a tough to check backcourt. McCollum has the NBA’s Most Improved Player award all but locked up, and few doubted how brilliant Lillard could be. The Blazers wisely jumped on two mid-major talents and have begun working the NBA over with them.
The Utah Jazz are just 9-17 on the road this season and have lost two of its past three games, having fallen to the Washington Wizards and New Orleans Pelicans, while somehow having defeat the red-hot Boston Celtics.
The win against Boston came through Utah’s great balance offensively. The Jazz placed all five starters in double figures, paced by Derrick Favors’ 23 points on 9 of 14 shooting. Favors also dished out six assists. Gordon Hayward had 22 points on 6 of 16 shooting. Center Rudy Gobert is still best used as a defensive anchor, but he too had 11 points and 15 rebounds in the game.
Gobert is averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds per game while ranking among the league leaders in blocked shots with 2.4 per game. Over the Jazz’ past 10 games he has averaged 12.9 points and 11.3 rebounds per game while shooting an outstanding 63.8 percent from the floor.
Gobert’s calling card is defense, but integrating him properly with Favors could give the Jazz a deadly offensive tandem on the blocks. Gobert helped Utah post the top defensive rating last season after the All-Star break, and Utah was clearly crippled without its anchor early in the season while Gobert was sidelined.
His presence in slowing the penetration of McCollum and Lillard will prove vital tonight if Utah is to prevail and snag its 10th road victory of the season. The Blazers are rightfully favored in the game, but this should be a close matchup between two teams that are jostling one another for position in this year’s playoffs.