UTAH JAZZ

Jazz Face Tough Test To Open Season Against Portland Trail Blazers

Dec 22, 2020, 10:05 AM | Updated: 1:33 pm

Donovan Mitchell - Damian Lillard - Utah Jazz - Portland Trailblazers 2...

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) talks with Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) during a foul shot as the Utah Jazz and the Portland Trail Blazers play at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. Portland won 126-118. Courtesy of Deseret News.

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz will open their 2020-21 NBA campaign Wednesday on the road against the Portland Trail Blazers. The matchup pits two playoff hopefuls against one another in what expects to be a stacked Western Conference race.

The Jazz finished the 2019-20 season with the sixth-best record in the West but were eliminated by the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The Trail Blazers suffered a similar fate at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers after earning their playoff spot via the play-in tournament in the Orlando bubble.

Star Power

Both small market franchises pack considerable star power entering the season. The Jazz are led by stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, while the Portland welcomes superstar guard and former Weber State product Damian Lillard back to the roster.

Mitchell and Gobert both signed max-level contract extensions with the Jazz during the offseason locking in the team’s two cornerstone pieces for the next half-decade. Mitchell is coming off his first All-Star campaign after averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, and assists per game. The guard led all scorers in the NBA postseason averaging a staggering 36.3 points per outing.

Gobert also made his All-Star debut and was named to the All-NBA third team and the All-Defensive first team after averaging a 15.1 point, 13.5 rebound double-double last season for the Jazz.

Lillard is entering his ninth season in the NBA having established himself as one of the best players in the league. The five-time All-Star averaged a career-high 30 points and 8.0 assists last season for the Blazers despite Portland’s disappointing sub .500 record.

Jazz and Blazers Familiar Faces

The game will serve as the official return of two familiar faces for Jazz as they take the floor in Portland. Starting forward Bojan Bogdanovic is back with the team after undergoing season-ending wrist surgery in May causing him to miss the remainder of the regular season and playoffs.

Bogdanovic’s wrist appeared fully healed during three preseason games with the Jazz. The Croatian sharpshooter averaged 16.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.3 assists while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 45 percent from the three-point line.

Derrick Favors is also making his return to the roster after being traded by the Jazz to New Orleans to clear salary for the acquisition of Bogdanovic. Favors was first acquired in 2011 and spent eight seasons in Utah before the move.

Favors returned to the Jazz shortly after free agency opened on a three-year contract worth nearly $30 million. The reserve big man averaged 6.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in 14 minutes per game during the preseason. The veteran brings valuable rim protection and defensive versatility to a second unit that struggled with inconsistency and experience last season.

Portland meanwhile will welcome back a familiar face to both Jazz and Trail Blazers fans. Enes Kanter, the former third overall pick by the Jazz in 2012 was traded to Portland in November as part of a three-team deal including the Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies.

Kanter spent three and a half seasons in Utah before being traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015. The veteran big man, now entering his 10th season in the NBA played 23 games for Portland in 2019.

The New Faces

Both the Jazz and the Trail Blazers welcome new faces to their rosters to begin the season in hopes of upping their defensive prowess.

Portland added versatile wing Robert Covington in a trade with the Houston Rockets before November’s NBA draft. Covington proved to be one of the league’s most exciting defenders after being featured as a center in Houston’s experimental small lineups last season.

The Trail Blazers also added frontcourt depth in third-year big man Harry Giles and super athlete Derrick Jones for length and versatility on the wing.

The Jazz are hoping the addition of fourth-year guard Shaquille Harrison can aid the team defensively in the backcourt. The team struggled to contain perimeter scorers last season, including Lillard who averaged an eye-popping 42.3 points per game against the Jazz in the teams’ three matchups.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the Jazz should have their full roster available to them on opening night. Guard Joe Ingles was given a false positive test for COVID-19 over the weekend but was back with the team after clearing protocol on Tuesday.

The Jazz and Blazers tip-off at 8 pm MT at Moda Center in Portland. The game will be broadcast on AT&T SportsNet.

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