Wire to Wire in Utah
It doesn't matter who is in uniform for the Utah Jazz, or who is coaching them for that matter, a win in Salt Lake City is a win in Salt Lake City. And, winning both meetings in that arena doesn't happen often. In fact, the last time the Blazers won two games in Salt Lake City in the same season was during the 2000-01 campaign.
It's very true, this isn't as impressive a win as the one the Blazers recorded in Utah earlier this year. Back on December 27th, this was a different Jazz team. They came into that game 22-10 and in first place in the Northwest Division. Following Portland's win on Thursday night, the Jazz are now 37-42, and this was their fifth-straight home loss.
This may have been a more meaningful win for the Trail Blazers, however, as they never trailed in the contest, leading by as many as 15, and won it 98-87. It was a game they absolutely had to have, following the home loss to Golden State on Tuesday night. They kept their hopes of grabbing the sixth spot in the west alive. But, they'll still need some help.
Gerald Wallace continued his incredibly-consistent play for the Blazers, this time scoring 29 points. He also grabbed 8 rebounds, and was back at the power-forward position with Marcus Camby back in Portland nursing a sore neck.
Nicolas Batum was solid as well, scoring 21 points, and Wesley Matthews, playing against his former team, had 18 points and 7 rebounds. Andre Miller was just 1 for 9 from the field, but recorded 12 assists.
The Blazers shot 46 percent as a team, and improved to 33-8 on the season when they shoot 45 percent or better. That illustrates how vital it is that they shoot just a decent percentage. Sounds simple, but when this team hits from the outside it's very, very difficult to beat.
It's tough to find many negatives when you win in Utah, but if we've got to search for one, it's that the Blazers didn't put this game away completely a little earlier, and had to play their key guys heavy minutes. Wallace played 43 minutes, LaMarcus Aldridge 43, and Andre 36. You have to wonder how much they'll have left in the tank on Friday night, when they host the Lakers at the Rose Garden.
It was nice to hear the TNT announcers point out that Portland faces so many back-to-back situations. The Lakers have just 13 such situations this year, while the Blazers have 23. Making matters worse is that in three of the four meetings with the Lakers this season, the Trail Blazers were in the second night of a back to back. The league's schedule makers have a tough job, but please.
As I stated after the loss to Golden State on Tuesday, the Trail Blazers do not control their own destiny at this point, in terms of grabbing the sixth seed. That's what made the loss to the Warriors so costly.
New Orleans, by virtue of holding season series against Portland, and thus owning the tie breaker, can claim the sixth seed if they win out. The Blazers have to win their remaining games, and then hope for a Hornets loss. New Orleans does still have to play at Memphis, and at Dallas, so it's certainly possible that they lose at least one of those games.
The Blazers not only will have to beat the Lakers on Friday, but will have to get past Memphis (no easy task) on Tuesday, and then win the finale at Golden State on Wednesday. But, if they win those three games, and New Orleans trips just once, they'll have the sixth seed. There simply isn't any margin for error right now. We've said that a lot lately, but never has that been more true than it is right now.
It's not known yet if Camby will be back on Friday night, but the Blazers certainly hope so. The Lakers are big and long, and Camby's presence will be vital to Portland's chances.
By the way, I've gotten a lot of questions from fans about the Mike and Mike t-shirts that are currently being sold in the Blazers Fan Shop. The initial batch sold out quickly (no, I'm not kidding), but there are more now. Because of several issues, that I'm not going to bore you with, these haven't been able to be an online item. But, if you want one, for $16 bucks, send an e-mail to this address and they'll hook you up.