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Playoff Implications Highlight Back-To-Back With Jazz

01/31/13
  1. Written by: erikgundersen

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    Friday night is the first of an extremely important back-to-back between the Portland Trail Blazers (23-22) and the Utah Jazz (25-21), carrying with it playoff implications. Friday's match-up is the first of four meetings between these two and the first of two they will have in as many days. The game will tip off at 6PM and be shown on CSNNW and can be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.

        •    As noted above, this game is big for both teams and the lower tiers of the Western Conference playoff picture. The top six teams are pretty much set, barring a complete debacle from those teams. The seventh and eighth spots are the ones where even the slightest slip in the regular season can be the difference between getting to the playoffs and starting your summer in late April. For the Trail Blazers, who did not come into the season figuring to be in the playoff picture, it's almost as if they are playing with house money even if the team doesn't see it that way. Nicolas Batum's (probable for Friday after MRI on right wrist on  reaction after beating the Mavericks who, with the Lakers, Rockets, Jazz and Timberwolves, are a team fighting with the Trail Blazers for one of those final spots, was telling about how much this means to the Trail Blazers. "Big win, big win. I knew these six games coming are going to be against good teams, five for playoff spots like Dallas, Minnesota and Utah, so this game was huge for us," Batum said. The Jazz and Trail Blazers, although traditional rivals, have yet to play this season. This meeting and this back-to-back series will, like the Clippers one carry the feeling of a playoff series, except that this game is of equal import to both teams.
       
    •    When looking at the Jazz, it's no secret that the key to their success is in the post. The Jazz are a rarity in today's NBA with emphasis on the post game and they also lack a dynamic pick and roll point guard with Mo Williams out to injury. The Jazz use pick and rolls on a league low 14.9 percent of their offensive possessions per Synergy Sports Technology. Their strength personnel wise and schematically is in their big men. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors are all capable of getting their double-double on given the proper playing time. With such an emphasis on post-ups and getting jumpers, it's easy to lose cutters and Utah feasts off cuts. The Jazz are third in the NBA on points per possession off cuts and derive 8.7 percent of their offense off cuts, ninth in the league according to Synergy Sports Technology. A player that is easily forgotten on the Jazz but shouldn't be is Gordon Hayward. Hayward is easily Utah's most dangerous perimeter threat with Mo Williams being out indefinitely with a thumb injury. Hayward is a frequent and dangerous target for kick out passes for spot up jumpers and is good off screens. Another dangerous player on the perimeter for the Jazz is Randy Foye who leads the Jazz and in three-pointers made and attempted on a nightly basis. The focus defensively will need to be from the inside out but Portland can't get so lost in defending the paint that they lose sight of the few, albeit dangerous perimeter players of the Jazz.
       
    •    The match-up to watch for this game will be between Portland's bigs, LaMarcus Aldridge and JJ Hickson against those of Utah, mainly Jefferson and Millsap. Aldridge and Hickson both cause problems for opposing defenses on a nightly basis. Hickson's activity level is something that will bother a Al Jefferson and Aldridge will have a duel on both ends will Millsap. However, it will be interesting to see who guards who when it comes to defense. Jefferson is one of the best post scorers in the league and Millsap is a creative scorer who, like Aldridge, can step out and hit jumpers. The advantage tips to Portland in this match-up because of Aldridge but it doesn't mean it won't be tough and the Utah reserve bigs are dangerous. Portland's big men will have to even out the match-up against Utah's bigs so that Portland's superior perimeter players can win the game.
       
    •    Speaking of Portland's perimeter players, this is a game that has Damian Lillard written all over it. Without Mo Williams, Lillard's defensive load is lightened against older guards such as Earl Watson and Jamaal Tinsley. The Jazz are one of the few teams for which this is the case but Portland and Lillard must take advantage. He will still need to be a good team defender but his normal responsibility in defending opposing point guards against pick and rolls will be almost non-existent against a team that uses that play so infrequently. Lillard should be able to get good separation against Utah's defenders and Portland's big men need to set good screens to get Lillard in space. Lillard, along with Nicolas Batum, have had so-so offensive outings the last two games and both look to have favorable match-ups against the Jazz.

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