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NBA Breakdown

In NBA on March 9, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Utah Jazz vs Portland Trail Blazers

The Utah Jazz arrived in Portland on the back of six consecutive road
wins, and they aimed to make it four in the back yard of a Blazers
team struggling with form and injuries.

With Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan at the reins in Utah, the team has
grown into the season and looks like a real contender. To add to their
six straight road wins, they have won 16 of their last 18 games as
Sloan coasts to his 21st winning season out of 22.

The Trail Blazers, meanwhile, have become something of a joke this
season, but not through any real fault of their own. Their fans have
had to have patience with this young team as player after player drops
with another injury. Coming into this one, their players had missed a
whopping 254 games between them this season, with centres Greg Oden
and Joel Przybilla huge losses, both literally and figuratively. Even
their coach hasn’t been immune from the jinx, Nate McMillan collapsing
with a ruptured Achilles when he stood in for a training drill
recently.

For this one, their star guard Brandon Roy was nursing a hamstring,
but this was evened out with the Jazz doing without Mehmet Okur and
then losing Andrei Kirilenko early in the clash.

Standing in for Oden and Przybilla was new signing Marcus Camby,
starting his 2nd game for the Blazers. His first was a chastening 20
point home loss at the hands of the Celtics, but any hangover from
that beating had obviously been quickly shaken off.

Portland started with a vengeance, as they aimed to atone for their
early season losses to Utah. Andre Miller started well for them,
landing 3 of 4 from the field and pushing the ball effectively. This
allowed LaMarcus Aldridge to ease himself into the game, and Rudy
Fernandez added some real energy off the bench.

The combination was too strong for a sluggish Jazz side, who struggled
to contain the home side. The telepathic connection between Deron
Williams and Carlos Boozer was malfunctioning, with Williams looking
like he would struggle to register his customary 10 assists. Boozer
was missing some gimmes, and as shot after shot clanged off the ring,
the league’s best shooting team found themselves in an unfamiliar
position as they were forced to chase the game.

A 13-1 run gave Portland a 27-14 lead as the Jazz clanged 8 shots in a
row and went a full five minutes without troubling the scorers.
Anytime Williams went off for a breather, his replacement Price was
abused by Miller in the paint, as the point man ended the quarter with
10 points.

The stats told their own story, as Utah gave up 6 turnovers and put
their opponents on the free throw line all too readily. Sloan lamented
his side’s lack of ball movement and their willingness to settle for
contested shots, but if he was expecting a change in the 2nd quarter
he was to be disappointed.

The Blazers’ bench was running the game, with Fernandez continuing to
fill up the stat sheet and Nicholas Batum coming up with big plays at
both ends of the court. The home side were shooting 58% from the field
at this stage, with the Jazz dropping all the way down to 28% as the
deficit widened. A late run sparked by Williams allowed them to close
the gap to 12, 50-38 at the half, but they were really struggling.
Boozer had 9 points, but Williams had only landed one shot from the
field.

Deron Williams struggled in the first half, but came alive in the second

The Jazz needed something, but it was McMillan’s men who came out
blazing once more. They immediately tried to get their star involved,
as the first three possessions were centred around Roy, who had been
quiet in amassing just 4 points in the first half. He finally landed a
3 on the third of these plays, and came to life as he notched 10
points in the quarter. The Jazz were still hitting the snooze button
as Camby dominated the paint defensively, and consecutive 3-point
plays from Roy and Aldridge capped a 14-0 run and pushed the score out
to a bloated 64-39.

At this stage, Utah looked dead and buried. They were being soundly
outrebounded under both baskets, but with Williams at the point, they
are a resilient bunch. His raging play spaked a 12-2 run for the Jazz,
as he unleashed crisp passes, nailed baskets and got to the free throw
line with aggression. They were still giving up far too many second
chance shots though, as the Blazers collected 8 offensive boards to
just one for the visitors. They were also hoisting far too many 3s,
hitting just 1 of 10. Behind the big effort from their trigger man
though, they were just about clinging to the coattails of their
tormentors, trailing just 73-60 at the break.

Nate McMillan took the opportunity to praise his side for their dogged
defense of the paint, rebounding and rapier transition play, but
warned his players that they had to keep attacking, and could not
afford to relax.

McMillan’s words were to prove prophetic, as the Jazz slowly hauled
their field goal percentage towards the respectable 40% mark, and
Portland’s shots stopped dropping. When Utah’s misfiring sharpshooter
Kyle Korver finally popped a 3, it put an exclamation point on what
had slowly become a 27-11 run, and the Blazers looked confused. Panic
began to set in, as Aldridge was forced off with his 5th foul, and the
free throws cut their once princely lead to a sweaty 6. The run
ballooned out to 33-12, and the leaders had shot just 1 of 9 from the
field as the Jazz kept coming at them. They had finally gotten a
foothold in the paint, and another Korver 3 made it a one possession
game.

The home side were far from done, as Roy worked tirelessly to get to
the line and Camby kept swatting anything that came within his radius.
The momentum had shifted though, and was on the side of the away team.
They still trailed with the clock slowly draining out though, and
needed a score to tie the game with just five seconds left. Williams
launched a skyer, which rimmed out, but for once Boozer gained
position on the rock-solid Camby and tipped a put back through the
hoop to tie the game at the buzzer.

Brandon Roy's second half effort wasn't quite enough

From that point on, there was only going to be one winner, and the
Jazz continued their Lazarus like rise by outscoring their opponents
10-6 in the overtime frame and taking an unlikely 93-89 win.

The Blazers really only had themselves to blame, as they shot a
miserable 4-27 in picking up just 16 points in the 4th quarter and OT.
To lose a game that they led for over 40 minutes is criminal, but the
sure sign of a young team.

Andre Miller adds some experience at the point, and Camby will bring
some valuable know how down low, but this side still has a lot of
developing to do.

Camby, the defensive player of the year just a few years ago, is a
commanding presence in the paint. He ranks 6th in the league in
blocked shots, and 2nd in rebounds, and will almost certainly be a big
asset to this team. He should form a formidable tandem with either
Oden, Przybilla or both when they return from injury.

Brandon Roy is also a superstar in the making, and he showed it
against the Jazz with a 19 point 2nd half. He missed some crucial free
throws down the stretch though, and still has some developing to do.
Ditto with the hugely talented LaMarcus Aldridge. The 7 footer has
great skills, and some real scoring weapons, but must learn how to
impose himself on a game.

The signs are good for Portland though. Under Nate McMillan, they
should continue on an upward trajectory. They showed character in
coming off their worst home loss in three years at the hands of
Boston, in a game where theyregistered season lows in field goal
percentage, field goals and assists. They have some useful backup
players too, Dante Cunningham is a deadly mid-range shooter while
Batum and Fernandez bring some real spark off the bench.

They are clinging on to 8th spot in the West, and a possible date with
the Lakers in the 1st round. Should they make it there, they’d be
doing well to extend that series to 5 games. Making the play-offs at
all would be a big achievement though, given the adversity they’ve
faced this year, and would mark this side down as one for the future.

The Jazz, on the other hand, are most definitely a team for the here and now.

They are a precision team with Williams at the point, and his
partnership with the outstanding Boozer is the hallmark of this side.
Boozer was a huge factor in the win over Portland, as he snatched a
career high 23 rebounds to go with 22 points.

Williams also racked up 12 assists, and drove the team on when they
needed it. They showed a remarkable resilience and will to win in this
game, which will serve them well in the post-season. The key to
winning a 7 game series is being able to keep games close and posing a
threat on the road. This win put the Jazz two games over .500 on the
road, and the mental strength to be able to pull back a 25 point
deficit is hugely encouraging for Jerry Sloan.

Even more encouraging will be their stellar record against the best
the league has to offer. Sloan’s side have winning records this season
against pretty much all the top contenders, and nobody will relish
facing them.

Along with the deadly double team of Williams and Boozer, they also
possess the long armed defense and experienced play of Andrei
Kirilenko. Wes Mathews, the rookie from Marquette, brings speed and
finishing ability, along with some studious defence. Paul Millsap may
not be the most thrilliung player, and he must improve his jerky jump
shot, but he’s a solid role player.

Off the bench, Kyle Korver can be devastating from range, and Kyrylo
Fesenko is a solid pro. CJ Miles and Ronnie price also provide good
back-up in a cleverly assembled squad.

Huge credit must go to the front office in Utah, who have assembled a
really dangerous team with only 3 first round picks. 6 of the Jazz
squad are 2nd rounders, and 3 were undrafted, but with good selection
and great coaching, they are right in the mix this season.

They play a mixed game, with Williams finding Boozer in the paint and
forcing double teams. Once this happens, they’re able to spread the
floor and pick off long range shots with deadly accuracy. It’s a
potent game plan, but they’ll face problems when they come up against
teams who challenge them in the paint. This kind of of inside out
offense might see them struggle to score, and the oversized Lakers and
their bevy of bigs could give them serious problems in a playoff
series.

Right now though, they’re sitting pretty in 4th spot and could be well
set up with a home playoff series to kick off what could be an epic
postseason run.

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