Trail Blazers at Jazz: Three Things to Watch

Portland Trail Blazers forward Maurice Harkless (4) and forward Ed Davis (17). Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

What are the biggest things to watch for tonight as the Trail Blazers play their second preseason game against the Jazz.

The Trail Blazers will play their second to last preseason game tonight on the road against the Utah Jazz. Terry Stotts’ squad will be looking to return to their winning ways after dropping two games in a row. Portland better get used to facing off against Utah, as this will be the first of two contests to take place this week.

Even though it is preseason, the Trail Blazers have some questions that they will want answered before the regular season starts next week. It appears that Maurice Harkless has nailed down the starting small forward spot, but there are still several questions when it comes to the reserves. Outside of the second unit, the bottom portion of the roster is still surrounded by uncertainty when it comes to who will make the final roster.

Those are two brief examples of what to watch for tonight. We would now like to take a more in-depth look at we should expect to see as the Trail Blazers take on the Jazz in Salt Lake City.

Portland Trail Blazers center Mason Plumlee (24). Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Questions on the Interior

Mason Plumlee‘s new mid-range shot has looked solid in the preseason, but he hasn’t been able to stay on the court to use it. The Trail Blazers have struggled to stay out of foul trouble for the majority of October. Plumlee has racked up at least five personal fouls (six against the Clippers) in three out of the five exhibition games. Although it is minor in the grand scheme of things, it could cause some serious concerns when his workload goes up in the regular season.

Outside of foul trouble, Portland has struggled to keep opposing post players out of the points column. Blake Griffin put on a clinic in the Trail Blazers’ visit to Los Angeles. The former first overall pick was able to score at will from wherever he chose en route to his 26 points. Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors combined for 24 points in Utah’s first trip to Rip City earlier this month.

Seeing some modest improvement from the interior defense would help put some nerves at ease before the start of the regular season, but it isn’t the end of the world. It appears that help is on the way, as Festus Ezeli has started to participate in practices.

Portland Trail Blazers guard Allen Crabbe (23). Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Bench Play has to Improve

As we mentioned in the first slide, Maurice Harkless appears to be the starting small forward entering the season, which means that the Trail Blazers’ bench should be a potent one. Unfortunately for Portland, that hasn’t translated to concrete results in the last two games. Both Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe have had their fair share of struggles in the last couple outings. Terry Stotts will need both players to pick up the pace on offense before the end of the month.

The second quarter of games have been ugly for the Trail Blazers recently. Against the Clippers the team opened the period going 0-9 from the field until Damian Lillard returned from the bench. Things didn’t improve against the Nuggets either, as Portland was outscored 33-18 in the second quarter. A lot of the blame can be placed on both Crabbe and Turner.

Neil Olshey (GM) invested over 140 million dollars into the front end of the bench, so results like this are unacceptable. Look for the Trail Blazers to bounce back in a big way against their division rival, as they have a shallower bench than usual with Gordon Hayward out of action.

Portland Trail Blazers forward Grant Jerrett (34). Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Battle for the Final Spot

The Trail Blazers still have to make two more cuts by the end of this week, and the competition for the final spot seems to be wide open. Luis Montero was the first of the four likely candidates to get sent packing, but three players are still left. Greg Stiemsma, Grant Jerrett, and Tim Quarterman remain as the competitors for the fifteenth spot on the roster.

Of those three, nobody has separated themselves from the pack. Stiemsma hasn’t seen a lot of action in the last few games, but it is unclear what his impact is at the practice facility. Quarterman only received five minutes of court time against the Nuggets, so more minutes could be on the way tonight.

Jerrett might be the most intriguing of the bunch. Is he going to be a difference-maker in the regular season? No. Could he fill a need as a reserve floor-spacer? Possibly.

With only two games remaining on the preseason schedule, it should be a solid test to see how these players handle the pressure. Maybe someone will separate themselves from the pack tonight against the Jazz.

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