Trail Blazers-Jazz Preview
Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews are constants on the court for a Portland Trail Blazers team that continues to rely heavily on big minutes from its starting lineup.
Portland is hoping the arrival of Arron Afflalo will provide the backcourt duo with more breaks as the rest of that unit hopefully gets healthier.
The Blazers seek a fifth victory in six tries while looking to win a sixth straight meeting with the host Utah Jazz on Friday night.
Portland (36-17) has led the league each of the last two seasons in minutes per game from its starters. It has ranked in the top four each year since 2010-11 in that category and is second behind Chicago this season with Lillard (36.3), LaMarcus Aldridge (36.0) and Matthews (34.0) leading the way.
Lillard and Matthews have played each contest, but Aldridge has missed six due to illness and a thumb injury that eventually may need surgery. Nicolas Batum has sat out seven with a wrist injury that still causes nagging pain and Robin Lopez missed 23 games with a broken hand.
”We’re just going to continue to get healthier – hopefully. We already hit the injury bug,” said Matthews, who scored 20 points in a 102-86 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 11. ”Our bench has developed and guys have played minutes that maybe they wouldn’t have if guys were healthy. That just strengthens our team.”
The little-used Thomas Robinson, Will Barton and Victor Claver were sent along with a protected 2016 first-round pick to Denver before Thursday’s trade deadline in exchange for Afflalo, who is averaging 14.5 points.
Afflalo, whose 42.8 shooting percentage would be his worst since a 41.1 mark during his 2007-08 rookie season, has started each of the last 396 games in which he’s appeared but is likely to come off the bench.
"Arron is a proven winner with playoff experience who will be easily integrated into our culture," general manager Neil Olshey said in a statement. "He possesses a skill set that complements our style of play on both ends of the floor and will make an immediate impact as we continue our playoff push."
Reserve forward Alonzo Gee also was acquired in the trade. It’s unclear when they’ll join the Blazers, who got 25 points from Lillard, 22 from Aldridge and 21 from Matthews in a 103-102 win over the Jazz on Feb. 3 in the first meeting this season.
Utah (19-34) comes out of the break having lost four of six after falling 87-82 at Dallas on Feb. 11. The following day, center Enes Kanter told a local newspaper he wanted to be traded before the deadline.
Kanter, averaging 13.8 points and a restricted free agent at season’s end, was dealt to Oklahoma City on Thursday as part of a three-team deal with Detroit that brought veteran big man Kendrick Perkins and a future first- and second-round pick to the Jazz.
Perkins’ contract, which expires after this season, could be bought out.
”It’s a competitive business and guys’ careers are on the line and (they’re) trying to make money for your family and for the future, your kids and their kids," Gordon Hayward, who had 27 points in the first meeting with Portland, said before the deal was made. "You get emotional, I think. Sometimes it’s an easy thing to do.”
That paves the way for Rudy Gobert, who had started eight games since Dec. 14 due to injuries, to become a permanent fixture in the starting lineup. Gobert is second in the league since Jan. 1 with 2.9 blocks per game, also averaging 8.8 points and 8.7 rebounds in nearly 27 minutes per contest.
Gobert had 15 rebounds off the bench against Portland earlier this month.