Jazz Assistant Coach Gordon Chiesa was in Portland Saturday to catch an updated look at the Trail Blazers and, frankly, not much had changed. "Outstanding," he says. "Just outstanding."
A synopsis: eight players averaging in double figures; the most wins in the league; the best field goal percentage shooter in the NBA (Buck Williams, .602); most home (36, tied) and road wins in the league; an All-Star backcourt."Yes, they are still the team to beat," says Chiesa.
The Jazz open their second-round playoff series Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. (MST) in Memorial Coliseum against the No. 1 seeded team in the West, the Blazers. It is a team that has most everything: speed, rebounding, brains, outside shooting, muscle, confidence. (They even brush between meals and avoid sugary snacks.)
"Just look at their team!" Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan says. "We've got to do a good job against all their players."
Which won't be easy. All five starters (Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Kevin Duckworth, Jerome Kersey and Buck Williams) average in double figures. But so do Cliff Robinson, Danny Ainge and - counting his start in Denver - Walter Davis.
If the raving about the Blazers sounds familiar, it should. Since Portland finished second in the NBA Finals a year ago, then won its first 11 games of the season, it has been considered the Team of Destiny.
"We're looking at that big goal, and I don't think the guys are going to stop until we get it," said Drexler after Portland had wrapped up the Pacific Division regular-season title.
Portland moved into the second round with an easy 119-107 Saturday win over Seattle.
Dangerous as the Blazers are, the Jazz had four respectable games against them. Portland beat the Jazz 101-97 and 117-105 in Portland and won 106-96 in Salt Lake. The only Jazz win was a 105-91 victory in the Salt Palace.
Forthwith is a look at the areas of concern for the Jazz:
- Rebounding. The Blazers out-rebounded the Jazz by an average of nine per game, including five more offensive boards an outing. Consequently, in the two games in Portland, the Blazers recorded 52 "second-chance" points.
In their win at Utah, they outscored the Jazz 20-9 on second-chance points.
"Those five offensive rebounds hurt you," says Sloan. "We can't just compete for stretches, we have to compete for 48 minutes. Everyone who steps on the court can't just be warming up."
Adds Chiesa, "A big key will be our ability to go body-to-body inside and be warriors inside against them."
Though Jazz All-Star Karl Malone hasn't been stopped by the Blazers - he scored 36, 24, 30 and 18 points in the four games - he had to work hard for his points. Blazers' forward Buck Williams is considered one of the few in the league who plays the Mailman in single coverage.
"Williams plays him as well as anyone," says Chiesa. "But Karl still got his points."- Fast breaks. It is no secret the Blazers love to run. They got 19 points off the fast break in the first game at Memorial Coliseum and 21 the next time.
"One of the biggest things in the game will be our ability to slow them down in the open floor," says Chiesa. "I didn't say stop them. You don't completely stop a team that wins 63 games."
- Depth. Ten Blazers played more than 700 minutes during the year, not counting Davis, who joined the team mid-season. "And Davis can light it up at any time," said Chiesa.
But effectiveness counts more than minutes. Portland reserves on the final roster combined for an average of 36 points a game. The Jazz bench - counting Thurl Bailey as a reserve though he started 22 games - averaged 31 per game.
- Matchups. "They're all important," says Chiesa, "but it seems that as the points guards go, so go the teams."
John Stockton outplayed Phoenix's Kevin Johnson and the Jazz got through the first round. The same may be said of this round, when he meets Terry Porter.
While the challenge with Johnson was to stop his inside penetration, Porter is also a fine three-point shooter.
At the other guard, the Jazz's Jeff Malone matches up against Clyde Drexler. That, too, will go a long way toward determining the outcome.
All things considered, it promises to be a rough seven-game series for the Jazz. Sloan himself has said, "I don't see to many upsets in seven-game series."
He's only hoping to see one here.