The Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers, who face each other Wednesday night in Rip City, handled adversity a bit differently in their most recent games.
Playing without the injured Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz cruised to a 110-104 victory over the Spurs in San Antonio on Monday night.
As he did in Mitchell’s only other missed game this season, reigning Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson stepped up to fill in some of the offensive void with a team-high 23 points. He had 30 in Mitchell’s previous miss.
Rudy Gobert, whose three blocked shots moved him into the NBA’s all-time top 50 in the category, led a Jazz defense that sparked Utah’s win.
Their defense was especially effective in the second quarter while holding the Spurs to 16 points to take a 10-point lead into halftime.
“I thought we did a great job (Monday) attacking, moving the ball (and) driving them,” said Gobert, who also contributed 16 points and 13 rebounds. “We were able to score in transition because of our defense.”
Mitchell (back) won’t play in Portland, either, so the Jazz will need more of the same against the Blazers.
The Blazers’ adversity cuts deeper than the Jazz playing without one of their All-Star guards. In Monday’s 132-117 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Portland was missing its head coach and seven players due to COVID-19, and they didn’t have the services of CJ McCollum, who continues to recover from a collapsed lung.
Scott Brooks stepped in to coach the Blazers in Chauncey Billups’ absence after the head coach entered the league’s health and safety protocols.
The Blazers struggled defensively, giving up at least 34 points in the first three quarters against a short-handed Mavericks team that was missing star Luka Doncic and multiple other players in the health and safety protocols. Kristaps Porzingis went off for 34 points.
And while the Blazers did put up a good chunk of points, they only shot 42.7 percent from the field, including a 5-for-15 outing by Damian Lillard. He finished with 26 points thanks to a 13-14 showing at the free-throw line.
Despite the setback, Brooks took a positive spin on the Blazers’ performance.
“It’s easy to put your head down — ‘We didn’t have this guy, we didn’t have this guy to match up with their size advantage’ — but we didn’t,” Brooks said. “We fought as hard as we can.”
The Jazz present an even bigger problem on paper for the Blazers. Utah has won seven straight on the road and, despite Mitchell’s absence, has a starting lineup and bench full of capable scorers. The Jazz lead the league in points scored (115.8 ppg) and field-goal percentage (47.7 percent).
The two teams are coming in this one heading in different directions. Utah has won four straight and 12 of 14 games. Portland has lost two in a row and 12 of their last 15 outings. That stretch includes a 129-107 Jazz victory in Utah a month ago.
–Field Level Media