Utah (34-38) at Portland (20-51)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Portland, OR
Temp: 80° F
  • Game info: 10:00 pm EST Sat Apr 1, 2006
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The Utah Jazz can’t afford to lose to teams like the struggling Portland Trail Blazers if they hope to make the playoffs.

The Jazz begin a critical stretch when they close a three-game road trip at the Rose garden against the Blazers.

Utah is in 10th place in the Western Conference, 2 1/2 games behind eighth-place Sacramento. It also trails ninth-place New Orleans by one-half game.

The Jazz are beginning a five-game stretch in which they play four games against teams with losing records. Two of those games are against Portland, which has dropped nine straight.

Utah has captured the first two meetings with Portland this season, with forward Mehmet Okur averaging 24.5 points and 10.0 rebounds.

The Jazz missed a chance at their first three-game winning streak since Jan. 7-11 with a 106-91 loss Friday to the Los Angeles Clippers. Utah allowed Los Angeles to place all five starters in double figures and shoot more than 55 percent.

“You can’t play with your head down and just wallow through the game when you go against teams that know how to play—and this team knows how to play,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “They’re well-coached and do things well.

“They got in our faces a little harder and we didn’t stand up to it. That’s what’s happened to us all year long when we’ve been in tough situations.”

Carlos Boozer struggled for only nine points on 4-of-15 shooting Friday. Boozer had averaged 22.3 points and 10.0 rebounds over his previous eight outings.

Portland, which owns the worst record in the West, is hoping to halt its slide in the finale of a four-game homestand. The Trail Blazers have dropped 18 out of 20 since the All-Star break after a 106-90 loss to Sacramento on Wednesday.

“It’s a reality here. We’re a team that at this time of the season, with teams trying to get to the playoffs, it’s going to be difficult to win,” Portland coach Nate McMillan said.

McMillan is using the final games to evaluate the young players on his roster, shaking up his lineup on several occasions during the skid. He started point guard Jarrett Jack for only the second time Wednesday and the rookie responded with 12 points and five assists.

“If we come and play for 48 minutes the entire game, we can compete with anybody,” Jack said. “We’ve got to come and play hard every night and hopefully we can get out of this slump.”

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