Currently on a three-game losing skid, the Jazz are hurting for a win. With Wednesday’s matchup being the last game before the All-Star break, there is perhaps extra urgency to enter the break back on winning ways. Unfortunately for the Jazz, they aren’t exactly facing a cupcake in the Portland Trail Blazers, led by former Weber State great Damian Lillard.
While they aren’t a pushover, they aren’t a juggernaut either. At 23-32, the Blazers currently sit outside the playoff picture in the Western Division. Still, with a player like Lillard, Jazz guard George Hill should have his hands full. Recently, Lillard and the Blazers have had Utah’s number. Portland has won three straight games against Utah and is now 10-3 vs. the Jazz since the start of the 2013-14 season.
In the Jazz’s last matchup with Portland on Oct. 25, the first game of the season, Lillard dropped 39 points, snagged nine rebounds and dished out six assists in the Blazers’ 113-104 victory. Over his last six contests versus Utah, he’s averaged 29.3 points per games.
The problem for Utah is that they don’t just have to just worry about Lillard. His backcourt mate, C.J. McCollum, is no slouch either. Over that same six game span, he’s averaging 26 points per game against Utah.
Should the Jazz and Hill build a defensive strategy around stopping Lillard, they’ll probably want to force him to take his shots later in the shot clock. For Lillard, the later in the 24-second span that he takes his shot, the worse he shoots. He likes to take the majority (45.9 percent) of his attempts at a comfortable time in the clock, generally with between 15 to seven seconds remaining. The stats page on NBA.com calls this an average space of time for a shot to occur. Lillard has an effective field goal percentage of 51.4 percent on shots taken in that span. Should the clock tick down to four seconds or less, his shooting percentage dips to 34.5 percent. He’s also a fantastic catch-and-shoot player, so the key will be forcing him to put the ball on the floor.
So if Hill can’t slow Lillard down, he’ll at least have to respond offensively when the Jazz have the ball. Simply put, when Hill plays well, the Jazz generallly play well as a whole. In games when Hill has scored 20-plus, the Jazz are 12-1.
While the game may not have playoff ramifications for both teams, the Blazers are a Northwest Division foe. Beating them and getting the sour taste of a losing streak out of their mouths is the name of the game for the Jazz Wednesday night.