By Charles Jay
With just three games to go in the season, the Portland Trail Blazers are on the verge of wrapping up a playoff spot, but they don't have it in the bag just yet. They could use a home win against the Utah Jazz in Saturday night action, which begins at 10:05 PM ET at the Moda Center. BetDNA customers will have the opportunity to place wagers while the action is unfolding, as they take advantage of live betting software that makes everything more exciting.
The Blazers got a tremendous performance out of Allen Crabbe the other night, as he made eight three-pointers in a 105-98 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. That was the sixth straight home victory for Portland, and obviously it could not have come at a better time. They had in fact been routed by Utah just four nights ago, shooting 39.8% from the field and dropping a 19-point decision. In fact, it has to be a little alarming that they have not really been within shouting distance of the Jazz in the last couple of meetings. They have been outshot by a margin of 52.6% to 40.1%, and Utah has made 53% from beyond the arc. Interestingly enough, there have been a total of only 43 turnovers committed in the three meetings between these teams this season. So they are playing relatively "clean." It's just that Portland, which has had its difficulties on the defensive end all season long, will have an even tougher from this point forward because of the loss of center Jusuf Nurkic, who suffered a cracked fibula. His presence had its impact on both ends, as he also came up with some huge games on offense. In fact, Damien Lillard, the All-Star point guard, as apparently felt the effect, shooting just 33% from the field over the four games in which your kitsch has been missing.
While Portland (39-40 straight-up, 38-41 against the basketball pointspread) is 1.5 games ahead of the Denver Nuggets for that final Western Conference playoff spot, Utah is in a battle of its own, with just a one-game lead on the Los Angeles Clippers for fourth place and the right to be the home team in the first round of the playoffs. What is difficult for head coach Quin Snyder is that while he wants his team have a home court advantage, he also wants them to be healthy going into the post-season, and so there is a strong possibility that George Hill, who was suffering from a groin injury, will not play in Saturday night's game. The same can be said of backup point guard Raul Neto, who is also dealing with a groin injury.
In the basketball betting odds posted on this game by the folks at BetDNA, Portland is a three-point favorite, with a total of 202 points.
Utah also played Minnesota in its last game, and they have no rest, as it took place on Friday night. But they shot 60% from the field, and they were able to bring Derrick Favors back into the rotation after he missed 14 games with a knee injury. Favors scored 13 points, but as a precaution, Snyder is sitting him out of this one, so as not to play both ends of the back to back situation. Gordon Heyward had 39 points for the Jazz against a defensively-challenged Timberwolves team. Portland has generally not offered much more resistance (allowing 108.9 ppg), but they did come up big in the fourth quarter against the T-Wolves on Thursday, holding them to just three field goals in 23 attempts.
Lillard's backcourt mate, CJ McCollum, is not the guy you want to foul. He has made 46 of his last 47 free-throw attempts. But that's okay, as Utah has one of the more proficient defensive schemes in the league, allowing fewer points than anyone. Of course, as BetDNA patrons know, it doesn't hurt when you play at the slowest pace in the NBA either. But along the lines of defense, you might expect that Rudy Gobert is going to be a very prominent figure here. The league leader in blocked shots is in the top five in both Offensive and Defensive Rating, and he'll take advantage of the fact that Portland has to play "small" more often than not, with both Nurkic and Ed Davis missing from the lineup. This is one of the things that might give Utah, a team that is used to playing with injuries this season, a decided edge, so that is the direction we'll go in.
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