SALT LAKE CITY — The Jazz will see a lot more of Portland's first team than they usually would in preseason games when they tip off against the Trail Blazers in EnergySolutions Arena tonight. Several Portland media outlets are reporting that Blazers head coach Terry Stotts plans to play his starting lineup for more than 30 minutes.
For Jazz fans, this may come as distressing news. In the first quarter of Monday's matchup between these two teams, the Blazers' first team made more than 80 percent of its shots and scored 41 points. Nicholas Batum, in particular, was a huge strength for the Blazers. He scored 15 of his 27 points in the first quarter, drilling all five of his 3-point attempts.
“Everybody was worried about Nic’s shooting,” Stotts told the Portland Tribune. “I ran more plays for him than I usually do, but he was getting better shots tonight. He got in a rhythm.”
Obviously, the Jazz will attempt to apply more defensive pressure than they did in the first quarter of the last game.
"We've got to have better effort in the beginning of ballgames," Jazz coach Ty Corbin told the Deseret News after the loss. "We've got to get a better first quarter than we got last time out."
But Utah isn't the only team that will look to apply more defensive pressure. Though it was after the starters had long retired for the night, the Jazz managed to score 41 points in the fourth quarter of the last meeting — a season high for a single quarter — mirroring the Blazers' first-quarter output. The Jazz's second unit, a group powered by Enes Kanter that played most of the second half after the game was far out of reach, outscored Utah's starters 61-54 with less playing time.
SI.com blog Rip City Project identified Utah's second unit and perimeter shooting as something to watch for, saying, "Portland’s got to do a better job of stopping the Jazz’s second-string players from lighting the court up."
Who the Blazers put on the floor against that second unit is the biggest question mark of tonight's game.
Starters generally don't see regular minutes because NBA coaches look to fill final roster spots based on preseason competition. For the Blazers, second-year guard Nolan Smith or former Jazz man Ronnie Price would normally back up former Weber State star Damian Lillard. Price, however, didn't travel with the team — he's been sidelined with an ankle sprain. Smith started against the Denver Nuggets on Oct. 17, but didn't see a second of playing time against the Jazz five days later. In fact, the Columbian reported that fans might have wondered what was going on in Stotts's mind when Coby Karl came off the pine to replace Lillard instead of Smith, and when Lillard returned, Adam Morrison was the wing-man instead of Will Barton.
That won't happen tonight. Stotts plans to leave his starters in longer, giving the appearance he's mostly made up his mind on the final spots. He told the Oregonian his starters are going to see regular season-type minutes, meaning that those who will attend the final preseason game will see much more of Lillard, Batum, former Jazz man Wesley Matthews, LaMarcus Aldredge and J.J. Hickson on the court.
It also means that those players without a guaranteed contract will have less time to impress than in previous games. It's the final chance for Justin Holiday, Demonte Harper, Dallas Lauderdale, Morrison, Karl and former Jazz man Sasha Pavlovic to prove they belong in the league. Look for them to play with intensity.
As for Price, Stotts told the Oregonian that he has earned his second-team spot behind Lillard and will be an active member of the rotation when his ankle heals. Right now, the Blazers are looking to activate him when they open the season against the Lakers on Halloween. Stotts said Nolan will probably back up Lillard for tonight's matchup.
“We’ll see how the game goes, but I want to shorten the rotation,” Stotts told the paper. “It’s our last preseason game.”
Landon Hemsley is the Sports Content Manager for DeseretNews.com.