Blazer Banter

Starting Five: Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz, 6 p.m.

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Though the Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz played twice in the preseason, the teams have yet to face off for a regular-season game – until tonight. So many strange things about this scheduling fact:

  • Utah is a Western Conference opponent and not just that but a Northwest Division rival, and the Blazers are just now, a full month into the new 2013 calendar year, seeing them for real.

  • Tonight marks the second home-and-home match up on the Blazers’ schedule in less than a week. After facing the Jazz in Salt Lake City, the teams will race to PDX and do it all over again – same teams, different unis – for a Saturday night game inside the Rose Garden.

  • Last strange thing: Adam Morrison is in that picture. Photographic proof that the Jazz and Blazers haven’t played one another in a long, long time.

On to The Starting Five

1. Boringly good Jazz … kinda like Michael Haggins

Since those preseason matchups back in October, the Utah Jazz haven’t changed much. No trades, no signings, not even player movement to D-League assignments. Nope. Nothing on the NBA transaction wire. And the last action the Jazz did take was exercising the contract option on coach Ty Corbin‘s contract on Oct. 30. Otherwise, Utah has had a pretty vanilla season – and that’s a good thing.

Through stability and patience, the Jazz have built a 25-21 season for the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference playoff race. There are no super stars in Salt Lake City, just a well-patched together crew of bruisers inside (Al Jefferson, Paul Milsap, Enes Kanter), a couple of young blossoming players (Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Jeremy Evans) and one guard who can pick up the scoring slack when necessary in Randy Foye.

Considering that Utah lost their starting point guard Mo Williams to thumb surgery at the beginning of the year, the team has still performed at a high rate.

Oh, and here’s the Michael Haggins reference. Tell me that this doesn’t bore you half to sleep… but doesn’t it feel so good?

2. Another ‘homecoming’ for Lillard

Point guard Damian Lillard was recently named to the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge during the All-Star weekend. He’s still holding steady atop the rookies of his class, with a best 18.1 points and 6.5 assists. He already torched it up for a career-high 37 points when he returned to his hometown Oakland, now Lillard gets another crack for a warm and fuzzy homecoming … in Utah.

Remember, Lillard wears the “letter O” on his uniform mainly because of Oakland and Ogden, Utah, the site where he spent four years in college at Weber State. Ogden is less than 40 miles away from SLC, so Lillard should expect to see a friendly amount of Wildcat purple in the stands.

The local paper published this story on the home boy.

3. The final word on the “wrong call”

On Thursday, Blazers veteran Ronnie Price, and former Jazz guard, reacted to the NBA’s statement that his pivotal play near the end of the Dallas game should have been called the other way. Price was inserted into the game with 4.5 seconds remaining for Lillard because coach Terry Stotts didn’t want his rookie starter to pick up a fourth foul and took the charge against Dallas guard O.J. Mayo. But the NBA released a statement that it was the “incorrect” call, and Price had this to say:

“I just found out today at practice that they said it was a bad call. I mean, really, you can’t really justify a call like that whether it’s good or bad until you slow down, go super-slow motion and break down every single rule there is, you know, of what dictates whether it’s a charge or a block. For the naked eye, it’s probably a tough decision to make but the call went in my favor. There’s been plenty of times in the past to where you’re on the other end of those situations. So I guess the NBA decided that it was a bad call and that’s their opinion.”

4. Slight yet steady improvement

Just a quick update on the Blazers’ improving team defense. Through the first rough patch of the season, the Blazers ranked at the bottom, or near it, in almost every important defensive category.

Today, Portland has the 10th best 3rd-quarter defense (allowing 23.6 points per game). That stat seems like a cherry pick – I agree, but I think this third-quarter trend helps illustrate the Blazers’ month of January when they fought to stay in games and played the historic stretch of 10 consecutive games decided by six points or less.

In other statistical categories, the Blazers still rank in the bottom tier: Opponent field-goal percentage, 22nd in the league … team defensive efficiency, 21st … points per game (98.9), 18th …

Still a work in progress but showing some slight work.

5. That’s What He Said

Jody Genessy of the Desert News writes that Foye can really put ‘em up in a hurry. Foye recently became the quickest to 100 3-pointers in Jazz franchise history.

“Foye, whom some vocal fans are hoping will be invited to the 3-point-shooting contest later this month, reached that mark in Monday’s game and now sits at 102 3-pointers this season.

Only six previous Jazz shooters sank 100 in an entire season, and Foye is well on his way to blast past all-time-organization-leading Mehmet Okur in the top two spots (129 and 114).

C.J. Miles (109), Bryon Russell (108, 106), Jeff Hornacek (104), Kyle Korver (103) and John Stockton (102) also had 100-plus from long range.

Foye (102 of 235) is just 25 3-pointers shy of tying his personal season-high of 127 treys, which he reached in the lockout-shortened season.”

Prediction: The Jazz, like just about every Northwest Division team, play tremendously at home. They’re 16-5 this season in SLC with wins over Miami, Houston and San Antonio. I wouldn’t be surprised if this back-to-back, home-and-home match up turns out similarly to the recent one with the Los Angeles Clippers – the home team protecting the turf.

Utah 99, Portland 92

Tipoff: 6 p.m., Comcast SportsNet • 1190 AM/102.3 FM KEX

Officials of the night: Ed Malloy, John Goble, Scott Twardoski

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