Matt Gade, Deseret News
PORTLAND, Ore. — The NBA schedule-maker probably shouldn’t hold his breath while waiting to receive a Christmas card from the Utah Jazz this holiday season.
An already difficult schedule just continues to get tougher.
Two days after hosting the team with the best record, the Jazz (4-16) visit the team that handed the league-leading Indiana Pacers their second loss of the season earlier this week.
And not only does Utah have to play Friday night at Portland, which leads the Western Conference at 16-3, but the Jazz get the Trail Blazers back in Salt Lake City on Monday. That game will be the third contest in four nights, with a home game Saturday against Sacramento in between.
In the meantime, welcome to Rip City.
“It’s very daunting,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said of his team’s matchup with Portland, the surprise team of the NBA.
“They’re actually playing very well. It’s another great ballclub.“
Nobody’s week on the Jazz has been more difficult than what Derrick Favors is experiencing.
“You go from playing Dwight (Howard), who is a rebounding, banging type of guy to a guy like (Roy) Hibbert, who’s a defensive guy, a big-bodied guy, to going against a guy like (LaMarcus) Aldridge, who’s a high-post (guy), good shooter,” Favors said. “It’s tough, but that’s why it’s the NBA. You’ve just got to figure it out quick and go out and play.”
Favors has more than held his own, putting together back-to-back double-doubles against Howard. The Jazz big man totaled 14 points and 13 rebounds in the Jazz’s 109-103 win over Houston on Monday and then scored 22 while grabbing 13 boards in a solid effort against the feisty Pacers in that Wednesday loss.
Favors, who signed a four-year contract extension worth $47-plus million before the season began, is averaging career highs of 13.7 points and 9.9 rebounds this season.
“He’s worked his butt off to continue to get better,” Corbin said. “He’s made some moves this year that he couldn’t make last year.”
Even so, Favors doesn’t put himself in the same class as the big men he’s up against this week, which will also include DeMarcus Cousins on Saturday.
“Not yet. Those guys have accomplished a lot,” Favors said. “I’m just starting to accomplish stuff, so not yet.”
Favors will have his hands full against Aldridge, who’s having an MVP-like season so far. The 6-11 power forward leads Portland with 23.5 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.
Aldridge isn’t the only reason why the Blazers are on pace to smash their 2012-13 record of 33-49.
Former Weber State star Damian Lillard, the 2012-13 NBA rookie of the year, ex-Jazzman Wesley Matthews, athletic forward Nicolas Batum and center Robin Lopez round out a fierce starting five for the Blazers, who’ve become a legitimate force.
Another familiar face, two-time Jazz guard Mo Williams, is providing a nice spark off the bench for the Blazers, too.
“(They) learned lessons from last year,” Corbin said. “They’ve enhanced their bench. Mo is coming off and giving them a lot there. They’re very dynamic at scoring a lot of points.”
To that point, Portland is fourth in the NBA in scoring with a 105.0 per game average. Utah only averages 91.2 points an outing, although Utah had racked up three straight 100-plus games before Wednesday’s 96-86 low-scoring loss.
The Jazz's increased offensive production has coincided with rookie point guard Trey Burke (12.6 ppg, 4.1 apg) being inserted into the starting lineup and feeling more comfortable in the NBA after his delayed debut.
“I think it’s just a feel that’s coming along with playing with my teammates every day in practice,” said Burke, who dished out a career-high nine assists Wednesday in just his eighth NBA game. “The chemistry’s starting to pick up. I think more than anything we’re executing.”
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