The final game of the NBA’s Christmas Day slate will feature the 19-14 Portland Trail Blazers visiting the 16-18 Utah Jazz in a battle between Northwest division rivals today (10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).
Portland started the season strong with a 12-5 record before losing eight of its next 11 games. Since then, though, the Blazers have recovered to win four of five games, all of which have gone down to the wire.
Utah has had an underwhelming start to the year after a promising 2017-18 campaign, but its difficult schedule so far and strong point differential suggest that it may improve its record soon.
These two squads met last week in Portland, with the Jazz winning 120-90. Will today’s contest be another blowout or will we get a more entertaining game for Christmas Day? Let’s examine some key storylines and predict how the USA sportsbooks’ betting lines will turn out with our Portland Trail Blazers vs Utah Jazz predictions.
Will Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell Look Like a Star Against Blazers’ Star Guards?
Mitchell looked like a future superstar in his rookie year last season. The 22-year-old shooting guard improved significantly as the season wore on and looked like an All-Star for the Jazz in the postseason.
This season has been a different story. It looks like teams have learned how to defend him better and Mitchell hasn’t expanded his game at all to adjust. His per-game statistics are virtually the same in most categories compared to last season, but his shooting percentages are way down from a lot of key zones. Mitchell’s shot selection has been especially bad as of late, as he has shot only 35.9 percent from the field and 28.8 percent from three-point range in December.
The Blazers have two of the more efficient perimeter stars in the game in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. However, neither is a standout defender. Mitchell must put in strong work on both ends of the floor to help keep the Blazers from dominating the battle of the backcourts.
Can Any of the Blazers’ Reserves Outside of Zach Collins and Evan Turner Contribute?
Neither of these teams is particularly strong in terms of its bench. Portland’s core reserves include Zach Collins, Evan Turner, Seth Curry, Nik Stauskas, Jake Layman and Meyers Leonard. The Jazz give rotation minutes to Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, Royce O’Neale, Dante Exum and Thabo Sefolosha off the bench.
It’s clear that neither team has a formidable bench, but Utah’s is bit better and that showed in last week’s matchup. Portland is quite shallow in terms of players who can actually give positive impact from game to game. Zach Collins and Evan Turner can offer somewhat consistent contributions, but everyone else is extremely inconsistent.
The impact of each of Portland’s reserves aside from Collins and Turner are all very reliant on how often their three-point jump shots are falling. One or more of them needs to get hot in this game for the Blazers to keep pace in Utah.
What Sort of Defensive Effort Will Jazz Bring in Today’s Game?
So much of the Jazz’s struggles this season have come down to this simple question: “how badly do they want to win?” Despite possessing essentially the same rotation as last season, Utah isn’t bringing the consistent effort, especially on defense, that marked its excellent season in 2017-18.
Utah had nine games with a defensive rating of 120 or worse in 2017-18. This season, not even 40 percent into the campaign, the team already has seven such games. Part of this has to do with their tough schedule, but it extends further than that.
The Jazz held the Blazers to just 90 points in their game in Portland last week. They are capable of playing with that effort more often, but they don’t do it enough. We will see if the Jazz bring another strong effort against their division rival.
Our Preview’s Portland Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz Betting Picks & Predictions
The Blazers may be 3.5 games ahead of the Jazz in the standings, but Utah actually has the better point differential despite playing the league’s toughest schedule. Also, the Jazz’s Rudy Gobert is an elite rim protector who can shut down the Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic, a big man who is very important to Portland’s ability to reach its potential.
I expect Utah to come out strong after a narrow loss to the Thunder on Saturday and beat the Trail Blazers by a decisive margin. Here are our Portland Trail Blazers vs Utah Jazz predictions:
- The Jazz are 6.5-point favorite with all top America-facing outlets. Betting on the Jazz -6.5pts @ best odds of -110 with Bovada or Intertops could be the smart play here.
- The Jazz are excellent at slowing the pace down on their home floor. They should be able to do so and limit the Blazers’ inside game en route to a low-scoring win. For the total points to be scored in this NBA game, bet the under 214 @ -115 with Bovada. The other firms are at under 213.5 points.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets.