The Utah Jazz finally snapped their longest road losing streak of the season in their last outing, but they’re still doing their best to make sure they don’t open the postseason there.
The Jazz look to move closer to securing homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs as they visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday.
Utah (48-25) has already clinched its first division title since 1999-2000 and first playoff berth since 2002-03. The Jazz are fourth in the Western Conference, but hold just a slim 1 1/2-game advantage over fifth-place Houston, their likely first-round opponent.
Utah won a potential preview of that matchup Sunday by overcoming a nine-point deficit to beat the Rockets 86-83. The Jazz snapped a season-high six-game road losing streak and improved to 19-18 there as they continue a four-game road swing that ends at Sacramento on Friday.
“It feels good now, but it is a tough road ahead and we’ll see who we are with a tough schedule ahead,” said Jazz center Mehmet Okur, who scored 20 points.
“I’m very concerned with what we do every game and I am not concerned about the playoffs at this time,” Sloan said. “We’ll play whoever is there and hopefully we’ll do our best. I’ve known who we are as a team all season long.”
Portland coach Nate McMillan thought he knew his team as well, but didn’t expect such a dismal showing in a 99-86 defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday. The Trail Blazers were outscored 38-18 in the first quarter and never recovered.
“This one really surprised me,” said McMillan, whose team is 14th in the West and on the verge of missing the playoffs for the fourth straight season. “The game plan has been the same all season - to start the game with an intensity level and aggressiveness. But the intensity level just isn’t there at the beginning. It’s as if we need to get down by 20 points before we start bringing that kind of energy.”
Injuries likely effected the Blazers’ energy as they are were playing without leading scorer and rebounder Zach Randolph, who will miss the rest of the season after undergoing hand surgery last Friday. Ime Udoka is day-to-day with a concussion while rookie LaMarcus Aldridge is out indefinitely because of dizziness and a rapid heartbeat.
Fellow rookie Brandon Roy scored a team-high 23 points against the Clippers and Raef LaFrentz added a season-high 15 for Portland (29-44), which is trying to avoid matching its season-high five-game losing streak set Nov. 25-Dec. 3.
Portland ended a five-game losing streak to Utah with a 103-100 victory Feb. 20 as Roy made 11 of 15 shots and scored 27 points to help the Blazers square the season series.
These teams meet for the final time April 16th in Salt Lake City.