No player went into the All-Star break hotter than Damian Lillard. Dame Dolla dropped a ridiculous 44 points per game over his last three games, including 44 to lead the Portland Trail Blazers (32-26) to a big 123-117 win over the Golden State Warriors in their final game before the break.
Of course, that win wouldn’t have been possible without some help from his friends. CJ McCollum added 29 points and the inconsistent Jusuf Nurkic chipped in with a strong double-double of 17 points and 13 rebounds.
But speaking of hot, no team went into the All-Star break hotter than the Utah Jazz (30-28), who reeled off an impressive 11-game winning streak. Their latest win came at home against the awful Phoenix Suns, 107-97. It was a well-balanced offensive performance with six players hitting double-digits.
Once again, Donovan Mitchell delivered with 24 points and seven assists. Meanwhile, another surprising rookie in Royce O’Neale continued to impress as he had a career-high 19 points. O’Neale has started the past three games in the absence of Ricky Rubio, but the Spanish point guard is very close to returning to the lineup following a hip injury.
Three keys to the game
Donovan Mitchell – Rubio could potentially be back for the Jazz after his three-game absence. But if he can’t go just yet, the Jazz will once more have to rely on Mitchell to carry the load offensively. To the rookie’s credit, he has stepped up to the plate with Rubio out. He’s scored 24 or more points in each of his last four games and has dished out 12 total assists in his last two.
Wing play – Apart from Mitchell, the Jazz’s wings were a huge reason why they beat the Blazers so comfortably on the road a couple weeks ago. The trio of O’Neale, Joe Ingles, and Jae Crowder completely outplayed their Blazers counterparts. Ingles and Crowder combined for 39 points on 9-of-16 shooting from beyond the arc, while O’Neale added 11 rebounds, six assists, and two steals as he went a team-high plus-28. If Utah can get anywhere near that sort of production again from those three, they will be tough to beat.
Jusuf Nurkic – Nurkic was a complete no-show in the recent meeting against Utah. He had zero points in 14 minutes as he was slowed by an injury. However, he redeemed himself in a big way against the Warriors. With the Blazers’ inability to get much consistency outside of Lillard and McCollum, the team desperately needs Nurkic to be that third option. They’ll need the Bosnian Beast to be as close to his best as possible if they are to successfully snap the Jazz’s win streak.
Matchup to watch
Damian Lillard vs Donovan Mitchell - No surprise here. Lillard has been putting up some insane numbers over his last few games and should be pumped to get another crack at the Jazz. However, Mitchell is just as dogged a competitor and will be equally as motivated to show that he can hang with an All-Star like Lillard.
Blazers projected starting lineup
PG – Damian Lillard | SG – CJ McCollum | SF – Maurice Harkless | PF – Al-Farouq Aminu | C – Jusuf Nurkic
Jazz projected starting lineup
PG – Ricky Rubio | SG – Donovan Mitchell | SF – Joe Ingles | PF – Derrick Favors | C – Rudy Gobert
Apart from Lillard, McCollum, and Nurkic, there really isn’t any other Blazer who figures to be a significant factor fantasy-wise. And of those three, Nurkic is the biggest risk. Although, he did come up with a terrific line in his first meeting against the Jazz, as he had 19 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks, and a steal.
As for the Jazz, Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder are proving to be reliable fantasy options apart from Mitchell. Ingles is averaging 17.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 3.5 3-pointers while shooting at a 51 percent clip over his last six games. Meanwhile, Crowder has been a different player since coming to Utah. He’s putting up close to 15 points and five rebounds with a steal in his first three games with the Jazz.
The Jazz's winning streak has to come to an end at some point. But it probably won't be tonight. Lillard has a better chance of cooling off, and if that happens, the Blazers will find it tough to top a very balanced Jazz team. It might not be pretty, but Utah likely find a way to win and cover the three-point spread.
The Jazz stretch their win streak to 12 with a 108-103 home win over the Blazers.
This game will be broadcast on AT&T SportsNet – Rocky Mountain and NBC Sports Northwest. Tip-off is at 9:00 pm Eastern.