Aside from the Golden State Warriors, there is no hotter team in the NBA Western Conference than the Portland Trailblazers. Portland has used this late season surge to entrench themselves into the 8th seed in the West with an eye on the playoffs. Their opponent Saturday is the Utah Jazz – another Western Conference squad looking to make a deep postseason run.
With only a handful of games to play, Utah is in prime position to garner home court advantage for their first round playoff series. The Jazz have flip-flopped back with the Clippers and right now only percentage points separate the two squads. Utah hasn't necessarily helped their own cause down the stretch tallying a 5-5 record over their last 10 compared to a 7-3 run by L.A. A road win in Portland is going to be tough – but at this point in the season, it's a necessity for Utah.
The Trailblazers have needed every bit of their recent 8-2 run to build a minimal 1.5 game lead over Denver for the 8th seed in the West. Prior to a 1-point loss in Minnesota on 4/3, the Blazers had rattled off six straight wins. That streak could be a bit overstated, however, seeing that some of the opponents included the Knicks, Lakers, T'Wolves, and Suns.
A theme for Saturday night's game is familiarity as the two squads will have just met up on Tuesday night in Utah. The last meeting in Salt Lake City didn't fare well for Portland as they were blown out 88-111.
Something to note for the Saturday tilt isn't necessarily the Tuesday night matchup, but instead what happened afterwards. Specifically, Utah has a Friday night matchup at home against Minnesota which means they'll be on the second leg of a back-to-back on Saturday. Portland, on the other hand, has a day of rest and will be waiting at home for the Jazz to get to town.
The edge for this game has to favor Portland. They are trending in a more positive direction as of late (despite being against mediocre competition) and are in a do-or-die situation to hold off the Nuggets. Utah is playing for home court as well, but a victory still isn't as critical. Combine that with the Jazz playing on the second part of a back-to-back and it makes Portland as the pick.