Trail Blazers-Jazz Preview

After moving back into the final playoff spot in the Western

Conference, the Utah Jazz have an opportunity to deliver another

big blow to the Portland Trail Blazers’ fading playoff hopes.

The Jazz will try for their season-best fifth straight victory

and beat the reeling Blazers for the second time in three days on

Monday night.

Utah’s postseason chances appeared slim after a 113-108 loss to

Dallas on March 24 to fall two games behind the eighth-place Los

Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference. The Jazz, however, have

responded with four straight victories to regain the edge over the

injury-plagued Lakers following a 116-107 win over Brooklyn on

Saturday.

While they have the same record, Utah (38-36) owns the

tiebreaker for the final playoff spot in the West.

“When we were struggling earlier, I had a feeling that we would

get out of it because the guys continued to work, they stayed

together, they focused hard,” coach Tyrone Corbin told the team’s

official website.

Now Corbin’s club seeks its longest winning streak since closing

out last season with five in a row.

Utah has already beaten Portland during this run, rallying late

for a 105-95 road win on Friday. The Blazers (33-40) have been

headed the other direction since trailing the eighth-place Lakers

by just 2 1/2 games on March 22.

Portland lost its fourth straight on Saturday, 125-98 at Golden

State, to drop 4 1/2 games back of the eighth spot with just nine

remaining.

It hasn’t helped that LaMarcus Aldridge, the team’s leading

scorer at 21.0 points per game, has missed the last two games

because of a sprained ankle. His status remains uncertain.

Rookie Meyers Leonard helped to fill the void with season highs

of 22 points and 10 rebounds against the Warriors.

It doesn’t figure to get any easier for the Blazers in Salt Lake

City, where they’ve dropped three in a row and 19 of 23 dating back

to the 2001-02 season.

The Jazz are also seeking their seventh win in eight meetings

overall and three of four in this season series.

Mo Williams scored a game-high 28 to key Utah’s win on Friday

and has 48 on 16-of-29 shooting in his last two games.

Center Al Jefferson has also given the club a boost lately,

averaging 22.3 points on 54.1 percent shooting over his last three

games. He’s also scored 20 in each of the two wins against the

Blazers.

While Paul Millsap had just nine points on 2-of-10 shooting on

Saturday, he’s scored a team-best 19.3 per game while shooting 54.8

percent in this season series.

The Jazz, who have scored 107.8 per game – 9.4 above their

season average – during their winning streak, will be taking on a

Portland team that has allowed 111.0 per game and lost by an

average of 18.7 points over its current skid.

“We have to make it more of a priority in these last nine games

to play more of a solid game especially on defense,” Blazers coach

Terry Stotts told the team’s official website.

Point guard Damian Lillard has done some damage in this series,

averaging a team-high 24.3 points.

Two of J.J. Hickson’s 40 double-doubles have come against the

Jazz, and he’s totaled 38 points on 14-of-22 shooting and 25

rebounds in the last two meetings.

Portland, though, has averaged just 86.7 points while shooting

18 for 65 (27.7 percent) from 3-point range during its three-game

slide in Salt Lake City.