Three games in one month is bad enough, but what about three losses? The Utah Jazz have absolutely owned the Blazers this season, and not just in the friendly confines of EnergySolutions Arena. Home, or away, the Jazz have beat Portland three times this year, with a 13 point average margin of victory. What Utah has done to Portland is humbling, and their total dominance of the Blazers must feel like sweet revenge for a team hoodwinked by the muscle-twirling villain Kevin Pritchard and his dastardly Paul Millsap “toxic offer.” After Portland hurt Utah in their wallets, the Jazz returned the favor and hurt the Blazers in the standings.
The Jazz were one of the first (post-injury) teams to really attack Portland in the paint and at the rim. Rarely settling for long jumpers, the Jazz bombarded the rim against the Blazers, poking the wound and making it abundantly clear that as long as Portland has no center, they will be exploited. During the 106-95 Utah victory on January 27th, I could swear the Jazz were just running layup drills against the Blazers’ hapless defense. Stop this madness, Marcus Camby. We’ll call a mulligan on your opening game as long as you stop Kyle Korver (of all people) from making the Blazers look soft. Deron Williams, on the other hand, cannot be stopped. Over the past five games Williams has dished (at least) 10 assists per game, a streak that is tops in the NBA (beating out such pass-friendly names like Nash and Paul).
If the Blazers have any chance at redemption, it will come in the first dozen minutes of this game. Utah is not a last-second comeback team (sorry, Sundiata Gaines). They establish themselves early, dig in their heels, and manage the scoreboard as time slowly expires. This season the Jazz have averaged 33 points in the opening quarter against the Blazers—hang your head in shame, Portland defense. With an early lead safely secured, the Jazz just roll from there. This makes sense when you consider that Utah has won 29 straight when they lead at the end of the third quarter, the longest such streak in the league.
You hate to think a game can be decided in the first few minutes that follows the tip, but if Portland comes out flatter than Andre Miller’s jumpshot you might as well just hand over a season sweep to the Jazz. Because up until this point, they’ve earned it.