April 11, 2018, 2:31 pm
OPPONENT: Utah Jazz
RECORD: 48-33 (20-20 on road, 8-2 last 10 games)
MEASUREABLES: 106.4 offensive rating (15th), 101.6 defensive rating (first), +4.8 net rating (fifth)
INJURIES, ABSENCES: Thabo Sefolosha (knee surgery – out)
WHEN, WHERE, HOW TO WATCH: 10:30 EST, Moda Center (Portland), ESPN
No matter what happens in the regular-season finale, the Portland Trail Blazers won’t see the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs. That’s a good thing, too. As anonymous as the Jazz may be on a national scale, they’ve blitzed the NBA since Rudy Gobert returned from injury on January 19, tying the Philadelphia 76ers for the second-most wins over that timeframe with 30, and leading the league with a mind-boggling +11.4 net rating. Remember when it seemed like the Blazers were the clear-cut third-best team in the Western Conference? That was never actually the case; Utah was just quietly racking up wins, climbing the standings to earn that distinction by beating Portland on Wednesday.
The winner of this game will be the three seed out west, and have the chance to play the hobbled, reeling Golden State Warriors in the second round of the playoffs – assuming either the Blazers or Jazz and the defending champions get there. No other seeding or matchup scenarios are quite so cut-and-dried, other than that Portland can’t finish any lower than fifth in the West. The Blazers can make it easier on themselves and their fans, of course, by simply taking care of business on Wednesday at Moda Center.
That will be far easier said than done. Utah is running on all cylinders right now, and has even more incentive than Portland to get a win. If the Jazz lose to the Blazers, there’s a chance they could drop all the way to seventh in the standings, setting up a date with the Warriors in round one. It’s not like a team coached by Quin Snyder, who some view as the frontrunner for Coach of the Year, ever needs extra motivation to get a victory anyway. Utah has long been one of the the most well-prepared and consistently engaged teams in basketball, and its supplemented that reality with top-tier talent and quality depth to match in 2017-18 despite losing Gordon Hayward over the summer.
The late-season injury to Joel Embiid makes Gobert the prohibitive favorite for Defensive Player of the Year, and rightfully so. The Jazz’s defensive rating since his return is 97.4, lowest in the league by four points; their defensive rating when he was sidelined for a calendar month from the middle of December to the middle of January was 110.6, per NBA.com/stats. Any statistic available makes him a worthy winner of the award, and so does the eye test. Gobert has the necessary combination of length and mobility to aggressive drop in ball-screen coverage, meeting the dribbler at the level of the pick while maintaining the ability to contest a pull-up triple and slide his feet to deter penetration. That’s key against Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, obviously, especially considering the weeks-long shooting labors of their teammates.
Donovan Mitchell would be a runaway Rookie of the Year in any other season, but might have to settle for being the rare first-year player to lead a postseason team in scoring – the first since Carmelo Anthony in 2003. The safest bet to keeping him in check is letting Mitchell launch off-dribble triples, shots he’s struggled with all season long despite steadily increasing their frequency. Mitchell’s blend of burst, ball-handling craft and overall knack ensures he gets wherever he wants on the floor regardless; forcing him to prove it from beyond the arc, though, will certainly make his life just a bit more difficult, and plays right into the Blazers’ ultra-conservative defensive scheme. This is another area where Portland will miss Moe Harkless. Evan Turner isn’t quite quick enough to keep up with Mitchell, leaving the Blazers’ biggest individual defense onus on Lillard.
The Jazz still aren’t a prolific 3-point shooting team, but the improved Ricky Rubio and emboldened Joe Ingles – together with Mitchell, of course – have nevertheless made them much more dangerous from beyond the arc. They’re extra difficult to defend because each of those starting perimeter players can both run an effective pick-and-roll and make spot-up threes. Ingles, a deadeye shooter, killed Portland with his unique sense of timing as a playmaker in its 115-96 loss to Utah on February 11. Dante Exum and Royce O’Neal are far less threatening from deep than those other guys, but still give Snyder a dose of the two-way effectiveness he demands from all his players. It’s tough to imagine the Blazers’ bench thriving on Wednesday if it’s not making jumpers; the Jazz’s reserves, including Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko, are just too sound and talented defensively to allow Shabazz Napier, Ed Davis and company to make that big an impact offensively.
Portland likely won’t be privy to the grab bag of easy points its consistently managed since the All-Star break, either. Utah has been the best defensive rebounding team in the NBA since Gobert’s return, grabbing 80.7 percent of opponent’s misses. While the Jazz are even more dominant on the defensive glass with Derrick Favors next to Gobert, the frontcourt tandem of Crowder and Gobert – which is included in Snyder’s preferred crunch-time lineup – still rebounds at a league-high rate. Utah is somewhat turnover prone, and the Blazers have grown increasingly comfortable running off opponent’s miscues as the season’s worn on. One problem: The Jazz have the second stingiest transition defense in basketball, according to Cleaning the Glass.
The playoffs are finally almost here, and not a moment too soon for Portland. Terry Stotts’ team needs a reset in the worst way after four straight losses and seven defeats in 11 games, struggles that weakened its grip on the three seed to the point of almost losing it entirely. A win over Utah would go a long way toward helping the Blazers forget their recent play, and earn the postseason position that’s long seemed a formality. Either way, Portland will surely be content to move on from the regular season; how glad, though, will largely depend on what transpires Wednesday night.
April 24, 2019, 8:26 pmBlake Griffin - F - Detroit Pistons
Blake Griffin (left knee) underwent successful arthroscopic knee surgery on Wednesday night.
Griffin's knee obviously dogged him during the final stretch of the regular season and throughout the Pistons' brief playoff run. The Pistons said that he isn't expected to miss any off season training and should be good to go for the start of the 2019-2020 season.
Source: Mark Stein on Twitter
April 24, 2019, 6:54 pmClint Capela - C - Houston Rockets
According to head coach Mike D'Antoni, Clint Capela (illness) is feeling much better ahead of Wednesday's matchup against the Jazz.
Clint Capela has been struggling ever since he came down with this virus. He seems to be close to 100% according to his head coach. If Capela can get close to his season averages of 16.6 points on 64.8% shooting while grabbing 12.7 rebounds and blocking 1.5 shots per game, then the Jazz will have an even tougher to task to take down the Rockets on Wednesday in order to force a Game 6 back in Utah.
Source: Tim MacMahon on Twitter
April 24, 2019, 3:24 pmJaMychal Green - F - Los Angeles Clippers
JaMychal Green will remain in the starting lineup in Game 5 on Wednesday.
Green logged 22 minutes in the same role in Game 4, though it's not surprising that the Clippers will stick with the same group considering Ivica Zubac's tough fit in this matchup and Montrezl Harrell's fit in his current role.
Source: Andrew Greif on Twitter
April 24, 2019, 2:11 pmNate Tibbets - Team - Trail Blazers
The Suns have been given permission to interview Blazers assistants Nate Tibbets and David Vanterpool for their vacant head coaching position.
The Cavs have already been connected to the duo from Portland, and Tibbets interviewed for the Hawks' gig last summer. The Suns reportedly fired Igor Kokoskov so they could make Philadelphia assistant Monty Williams their top target before the Lakers got too deep into talks, but Phoenix will be looking at multiple candidates. It's a nice roster to work with but we can't imagine anyone will be too eager to work with the team's ownership group.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
April 24, 2019, 2:00 pmDraymond Green - F - Golden State Warriors
Draymond Green admitted that his right wrist has been hurt for "a while."
Green added that he got hit there in Game 4 and "it pissed it off" and said that he's going to play through any pain in the postseason. It's not like teams weren't sagging off Green on the perimeter already, but if his wrist continues to hamper him in any way we may see opponents get very aggressive in their defensive efforts on Golden State's other players. Green is going to have lots of open jumpers presented to him for the rest of the postseason.
Source: Anthony Slater on Twitter
April 24, 2019, 1:57 pmJarrett Allen - C - Brooklyn Nets
Jarrett Allen will work on extending his range to the 3-point line this summer.
Him and every other big man. Allen went 6-for-45 on 3-pointers this season, so he's got some work to do. He's a quality young player who can protect the rim, but Allen isn't quite strong enough to crash and bang with the league's true behemoths and not quite gifted enough offensively to be anything more than a threat on the roll. It's a great base from which to work, however, and it's good to know that Allen is going to be putting in the work to make himself more of a weapon as the Nets look to build on a nice campaign.
Source: Bryan Fonseca on Twitter
April 24, 2019, 1:55 pmMarcus Smart - G - Boston Celtics
On Wednesday Brad Stevens said that Marcus Smart (torn oblique) is "doing great."
That's nice, but it's not much of an update. Smart was able to do some light shooting and treadmill work yesterday but we're still not expecting to see him until the tail end of the second round at the earliest. His tenacity and perimeter defense will be missed dearly in Boston's matchup with the Bucks.
Source: Jay King on Twitter
April 24, 2019, 1:48 pmKyle Lowry - G - Toronto Raptors
Kyle Lowry suffered a dislocated finger on his right hand in the first half of Tuesday's Game 5 but was able to pop it back in and return to the game.
Lowry swiped at the ball and ended up hitting Evan Fournier's leg with his hand, which caused the injury The fact that he was able to return to the game, even in a blowout, bodes well for his status for the second round. It may affect his shooting to some degree but Lowry has been playing facilitator more often anyway, and we wouldn't expect his performance to suffer. After a scoreless Game 1, Lowry was all over the floor for the Raptors as they locked in and simply outclassed Orlando.
Source: The Athletic
April 24, 2019, 11:50 amJeff Hornacek - Team - Sacramento Kings
Sam Amick of the Athletic is reporting that former Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek had an interview with the Kings for the lead assistant coach job.
Sacramento has already hired Luke Walton to be their new coach but the news about the sexual assault allegations he faces might put his status in danger. Walton should be able to assemble his coaching staff once he is out of the woods but we should know more once the NBA concludes with their investigation of the matter.
Source: The Athletic
April 24, 2019, 11:11 amLuke Walton - Team - Sacramento Kings
Sam Amick of the Athletic is reporting that Luke Walton still has the Kings’ support, despite the sexual assault allegations the newly-hired coach is facing.
The Kings are working with the NBA to investigate allegations made against Walton by his former colleague at Time Warner Cable, Kelli Tennant. The report adds that the two sides are moving forward with their working relationship and there doesn’t appear to be any momentum toward firing Walton, who was hired earlier this month just three days after he parted ways with the Lakers. The Kings confirmed that they were not aware of the accusations until TMZ reported the news and that they will wait for the facts before making a decision on Walton’s future. The investigation has been delayed because all parties haven’t been able to access Tennant’s lawsuit so more information should merge soon.
Source: The Athletic