The Utah Jazz (27-28) are just one win away from getting back to .500 thanks to their amazing eight-game winning streak. They extended that win streak to eight with a comfortable 106-94 victory over the Charlotte Hornets. After a pair of very quiet performances, rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell finally got back on track with 25 points, six rebounds, and four assists. Joe Ingles added 23 points while Rudy Gobert had a strong 20-point, 11-rebound double-double. However, Ricky Rubio picked up a hip injury and is questionable to feature against Portland.
As for the Trail Blazers (31-25), they’ve now won back-to-back games following a 118-100 win over the Sacramento Kings. Damian Lillard was spectacular as he went off for a season-high 50 points in just three quarters against the hapless Kings. Prior to that win, the Blazers just about held off the Hornets at home in overtime, 109-103. Jusuf Nurkic went off for 24 points and 14 rebounds, while CJ McCollum added 22.
Three keys to the game
Home-court advantage - The Jazz have been pretty impressive on their travels lately, but their visit to Portland will prove to be a tough challenge. The Blazers have now won nine consecutive games at Moda Center, and their raucous home crowd will be fired up to see the Blazers snap their division rivals’ winning streak.
Ricky Rubio’s availability - Rubio’s absence would be a huge blow for the Jazz. The Spaniard has been sensational over the past few weeks. He was also instrumental in Utah’s win over the Blazers back in November, dropping 30 points to help the Jazz outlast Portland in overtime, 112-103. He’s been playing at that sort of level over the last few games and would be a huge miss if he can’t go.
Battle of supporting casts - If Rubio is indeed absent, the Jazz supporting cast will need to carry the load offensively. But after shipping off both Rodney Hood and Joe Johnson, it remains unclear if the Jazz are fully capable of coming up with those types of performances as consistently. As for the Blazers, their supporting cast outside of Lillard and McCollum has been hit or miss for basically the entire season. But if Nurkic or some other role player is able to produce, the Blazers should be in decent shape.
Matchup to watch
Donovan Mitchell vs CJ McCollum - Mitchell finally got back on track offensively against the Hornets, and the Jazz will have to lean heavily on him in terms of playmaking if Rubio misses out. At the same time, the rookie will have the responsibility of keeping an eye on McCollum, who had his own 50-point outburst against the Bulls just a couple weeks ago.
Jazz projected starting lineup
PG - Ricky Rubio | SG - Donovan Mitchell | SF - Joe Ingles | PF - Derrick Favors | C - Rudy Gobert
Blazers projected starting lineup
PG - Damian Lillard | SG - CJ McCollum | SF - Maurice Harkless | PF - Al-Farouq Aminu | C - Jusuf Nurkic
Mitchell will be the undisputed main man for the Jazz offensively without Rubio. He already put up one good game against Portland as he dropped 28 points and six rebounds off the bench back in November. Meanwhile, Gobert could also take on a bigger role offensively if needed. He’s scored 19 or more points in two of his last three games.
As for the Blazers, Lillard is the obvious top fantasy target for the Blazers as he’s coming off his huge game. Lillard had a terrific fantasy night last time he faced the Jazz as he went for 33 points, ten rebounds, and eight assists. Nurkic was also very good in that game as he dropped 19 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks. His production can still be inconsistent at times, but his upside remains fairly high.
The Jazz’s winning streak has to come to an end at some point, and Rubio’s potential absence could just be the factor that ends it in Portland. The Blazers have been terrific at home, and Lillard could just have another field day against Raul Neto.
The Blazers put an end to the Jazz’s win streak as they get the 104-96 home win.
This game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Northwest and AT&T SportsNet -Rocky Mountain. Tip-off is at 9:00 pm Eastern.