The Portland Trail Blazers: Can They Beat the Jazz and the Spurs?
The Trail Blazers haven't had too much success against their fellow Western Conference playoff contenders recently.
Take away Andre Miller's gargantuan effort in their overtime victory at Dallas, and you have losses to New Orleans, their old nemesis Houston, and the Utah Jazz—three teams the Blazers could not afford losses to.
While the win against the Mavericks and the absolute smashing of the formerly-streaking Charlotte Bobcats should restore some energy and confidence to the flagging Blazers, there are still some doubts whether Portland can go into Utah tonight and exact revenge for last Wednesday's loss.
Utah has been a dominant team lately, crushing everyone in their way as they climbed to fourth in the West, closing in on Northwest Division leader Denver in the process.
With a 20-6 record at EnergySolutions Arena, Deron Williams manning the point better than anyone else in the league, and an absolute monster in Paul Millsap down low, the Jazz will be a tough challenge for Portland.
The key for Portland tonight will be to use the length of LaMarcus Aldridge and the veteran guile of Juwan Howard to keep Millsap from doing what he's paid that huge amount of money to do: tip in misses and swallow rebounds like a 6'7" black hole.
Williams will get his, but if the Blazers can make absolutely sure that the vast majority of Utah's possessions are one-and-done, they'll have a good shot at winning a very important game on the road.
An easier, but no less daunting, challenge awaits Portland the following night as the San Antonio Spurs visit the Rose Garden.
In the past, this meant an auto-loss for the Blazers, as the Spurs were either too experienced or too talented to beat. Nowadays, however, it's a different story.
Last season, Portland won its last two games against San Antonio, and the trend has continued this season, with Portland winning the first two meetings this season.
On Thursday night, when the Blazers and Spurs meet for the last time in the regular season, Portland will have a chance to do something it hasn't come close to doing since David Robinson was patrolling the lanes: sweep the San Antonio Spurs in a season.
The key for Portland will be to contain the Spurs' perimeter shooters. While Tim Duncan can still put up 20-point nights with impunity, the scuttlebutt around the league says he's no longer capable of carrying the Spurs to a victory. I tend to believe that.
In the face of Duncan's slight decline, San Antonio has had to rely upon the three-point shot to supplement Timmy's contributions. When the likes of Richard Jefferson and Roger Mason are hitting from beyond the mark, the Spurs are pretty tough to beat.
But when they aren't, San Antonio suddenly looks like an old, gimpy squad whose shining star appears in danger of sinking beyond the horizon forevermore.
I don't think they're there just yet, but if they allow the upstart Blazers to sweep them for the first time in forever, San Antonio will pave a few more feet on the path to there.
The Trail Blazers obviously need these two games pretty badly; with the Western Conference as clogged up as it is, any kind of chance to create separation should be wholeheartedly embraced.
The Blazers didn't embrace it last week. Let's see if they have the stones to do so tonight and tomorrow.
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