Utah (4-3) have won back-to-back games and improved to 4-0 at home after cruising by Dallas 104-89 on Monday night. Rodney Hood scored 25 points and combined with Ricky Rubio to go 9 of 17 from 3-point range as the Jazz hit 16 3-pointers overall.
The Jazz have outscored opponents by 12.2 points per game at Vivint Smart Home Arena and have made 29 of 66 from beyond the arc (43.9 percent) in their last two games there. Utah have not started a season 5-0 at home since winning their first six games of the 2012/13 campaign.
Portland (4-3) are in between home stands and looking to return to Oregon with momentum. The Trail Blazers split their four games at home after a 99-85 loss to Toronto on Monday in which they were held to six second-quarter points.
Damon Lilliard scored 36 points, but C. J. McCollum was the only other player in double figures with 16 as Portland shot 38.8 percent. The Blazers kick off a six-game home stand after this contest, and this is their only road game in a 22-day span.
Three keys to the game
A symphony of Jazz offense - Utah are not a flashy team, they're at the best when they move the ball. The Jazz are fifth in the NBA in assists per field goal made at .607 and they are sixth in effective field goal percentage (53.0). Rubio leads the team with 51 assists, but six players have at least ten. When the ball moves, the Jazz sing on offense.
A breakout for Lillard? - Lillard is shooting under 40 percent for the season, but Monday marked the first time this season he shot over 50 percent in a game. Those struggles haven't stopped him from hunting his shot, and Lillard is getting to the foul line; he's made 48 of 54 there. But Monday's loss could portend good things to come for Portland's leading scorer.
Jazz hands at home - One of the reasons for Utah's success at home is their active hands on defense. The Jazz have recorded 45 steals in those four wins, and starting small forward Joe Ingles has a team-high 16 overall. Rubio is second with 15, and he may be the man of the moment given Portland's guard-heavy offense with Lillard and McCollum.
Matchup to watch
Jusuf Nurkic vs Rudy Gobert - Both centers are kind of forgotten publicly, but both are very important two-way players. Nurkic is averaging 12.6 points and 7.7 rebounds, which isn't bad, but is slightly off from last season after being acquired from Denver when he averaged 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 20 games while helping the Trail Blazers reach the playoffs. Gobert is coming off his best game of the season for Utah with 17 points, 12 rebounds, six blocks and six assists, and he's averaged 4.5 blocks in his last four games.
Portland Trail Blazers projected starting lineup
PG - C. J. McCollum | SG - Damon Lillard | C - Jusuf Nurkic | SF - Maurice Harkless | PF - Al-Farouq Aminu
Utah Jazz projected starting lineup
PG - Ricky Rubio | SG - Rodney Hood | C - Rudy Gobert | SF - Joe Ingles | PF - Derrick Favors
Playing Lillard is a caveat emptor. He had a 59-point game the last time he faced Utah, hitting nine 3-pointers and shooting 18 of 34 overall. Lillard also had 39 points in Portland's other home game against the Jazz. In the two games at Utah, however, he was a combined 8 for 39 and totaled 29 points. Lillard has averaged 20.1 points in nine games at Utah but is shooting just 38.1 percent there.
If you need assists, Rubio is your man. He's averaged 9.0 assists in his last ten games versus Portland to go with 11.2 points per game and a 5.0 assist-to-turnover ratio. Gobert carries a streak of four double-doubles against the Blazers into this contest, averaging 14.5 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks while shooting 79.2 percent.
The Jazz have covered in all four of their home wins, winning each game by at least nine points, and the home team has covered in the last seven meetings between these teams. Portland are 2-5 against the spread in its last seven division games and are 1-3-1 in their last five against the spread overall.
This game will come down to two things: whether Lillard gets help offensively from someone besides McCollum, and whether the Jazz can continue to be active defensively.
Hood has been an effective defensive player for the Jazz, who are allowing just 94.2 points per 100 possessions when he is on the floor, and he will be the primary defender against Lillard. If Lillard can get past him, then it will be on Gobert to be the eraser in the paint.
Utah do not get to the foul line all that much, but if they continue to hit from 3-point range, it won't matter all that much. The Jazz should remain perfect at home, but it won't be easy as they hold off the Trail Blazers for a 102-96 win.
This game will be televised locally on AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain and NBC Sports Northwest. Tip-off time is 9 pm ET.
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