Jazz, Trail Blazers vie for No. 3 seed in West
PORTLAND, Ore. — The No. 3 playoff seed in the Western Conference is on the line Wednesday night at Moda Center when the Portland Trail Blazers play host to the Utah Jazz is what will have all the feel of a playoff game.
Portland and Utah come into the final regular-season game with a 48-33 record, but the teams have taken decidedly different routes to get there.
The Trail Blazers enjoyed a 13-game win streak in late February and early March but enter Wednesday’s contest coming off a four-game losing streak. Utah, meanwhile, joins the Houston Rockets as the hottest teams in the NBA. Since Jan. 24, when they were 19-28, the Jazz are 29-5 and have won six straight coming into the showdown at Portland.
The Jazz aren’t just winning games, they’re beating opponents up. In their recent stretch of victories, they’ve defeated Minnesota 121-97, trounced the L.A. Clippers 117-95 and topped the L.A. Lakers 112-97. On Tuesday, Utah annihilated Golden State 119-79 at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
“More than anything, I’m just really proud of our guys,” Utah coach Quin Snyder told reporters. “What these guys did collectively to get better. … I don’t want to diminish what this group has accomplished.”
But the Jazz know there is more to accomplish.
“The next thing is getting that No. 3 spot and homecourt advantage (in the first round of the playoffs),” Utah rookie guard Donovan Mitchell said. “That’s our big goal now.”
Utah will be playing the second of back-to-back games at Moda Center, but Snyder used no player more than 28 minutes in the rout of the defending champion Warriors.
More than a week ago, Portland was one victory away from locking down homecourt advantage. That win never came with the Blazers losing in succession to Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Denver on a highly discouraging road trip. Now, it comes down to one more chance to clinch the No. 3 spot in the West.
Portland’s offense has been struggling in recent games, but never more so than Monday night at Denver, when the Blazers shot 33 percent from the field, including 7 for 33 from 3-point range. Was it a matter of just missing good shots?
“We can shoot the ball,” Portland point guard Damian Lillard said after the Denver game. “If we were shooting bad because we were taking bad shots, then that would be a problem. But we are getting good looks. … We shoot the ball. That’s what our team does. It’s not a concern. It always comes back.”
Portland coach Terry Stotts said he was encouraged by the defense the Blazers played at Denver, holding the Nuggets to 37.3 percent shooting. Another good sign: The performance of center Jusuf Nurkic, who scored 20 points and collected 19 rebounds — including a career-high eight off the offensive glass — against his old team. Nurkic’s matchup with Utah’s Rudy Gobert will be a key one Wednesday night.
The Blazers will be helped by the return of power forward Ed Davis, who missed four games with a sprained ankle. The veteran reserve, who provides rebounding, defense and energy off the Portland bench, came back to play 15 minutes against the Nuggets and should be closer to 100 percent against the Jazz.
Portland’s starting small forward, Moe Harkless, remains out after undergoing knee surgery March 27. He is expected to be back for the playoffs.