Sunday, February 25, 2024

Bold Predictions: Lauri Markkanen Boosts Jazz Momentum, Forecasting Victory Against Injury-Plagued Trail Blazers

HomeSports NewsBold Predictions: Lauri Markkanen Boosts Jazz Momentum, Forecasting Victory Against Injury-Plagued Trail...

The Utah Jazz roll into Portland on Thursday looking to win consecutive games for just the third time this season. They will face a Trail Blazers team mired in a four-game losing streak and missing several key players to injury.

Utah received a huge boost on Wednesday with the return of forward Lauri Markkanen from a hamstring injury. Despite being limited to just 24 minutes, Markkanen energized the Jazz to a 117-113 home win over the New York Knicks by scoring 23 points and grabbing 8 rebounds.

Winning the game, that’s the most important thing, and coming in and doing whatever you can no matter how many minutes you play,” Markkanen said after the game. “So that’s what I tried to do.”

Markkanen’s return comes on the heels of Utah’s 118-113 overtime road win against Portland on December 2. Guard Collin Sexton led the Jazz in that game with 25 points on an efficient 9-of-13 shooting. Sexton followed that up on Wednesday by scoring a season-high 26 points in his first start of the year.

“I feel like that was a solid game, being my first time in the starting lineup all year,” Sexton said after beating New York. “I was ready for my opportunity. Just coming out with the victory, that’s the most important thing.”

The red-hot Sexton will aim to stay aggressive against a Portland defense ranked just 22nd in opponent’s points per game (117.5). Likewise, Markkanen will look to exploit a shorthanded Trail Blazers frontcourt missing starters Jerami Grant and Deandre Ayton.

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Portland’s Woes Continue Despite Simons and Sharpe’s Scoring Outbursts

Despite electrifying scoring performances from Anfernee Simons and rookie Shaedon Sharpe, the Portland Trail Blazers fell 132-127 to the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday for their fourth straight loss. The team now returns home for a critical five-game home stand in need of wins to stop the bleeding.

Simons continued his torrid play since returning from a thumb injury by dropping 38 points on 14-of-25 shooting (6-12 on threes). The electric guard is now averaging 32 points over his last three contests. Meanwhile, Sharpe poured in a career-high 27 points while shooting an uber-efficient 10-of-14 from the field.

“I thought Shaedon Sharpe was great, aggressive,” said Blazers coach Chauncey Billups. “I loved the way he played.”

Rookie point guard Scoot Henderson also provided a much-needed spark against Los Angeles. Despite struggling with his shot for most of the year, Henderson went off for 19 points on an 8-of-16 clip including 3-4 from downtown.

“Opponents are going to give me the time to shoot the ball,” Henderson said after the game. “They’re going to go under screens, they’re not going to try to contest the 3-ball, obviously, just based off the numbers and stuff. I understand that, so I’m just taking my time when I have the open shot.”

Billups heaped praise on the young playmaker’s performance while acknowledging his night-and-day improvement on the defensive end.

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“I thought Scoot was incredible,” Billups said. “His minutes were great. He gave us some great pace. I thought it was one of his best kind of all-around efforts in the game. Defensively, he’s always going to be tough and scrappy. Scoot was big for us the whole time.”

Injury Report

Portland has been decimated by injuries during this four-game slide.

  • Star forward Jerami Grant remains in the league’s concussion protocol now missing four straight contests. The team continues labeling him day-to-day.
  • Deandre Ayton (left knee injury management) has sat the last three games but the big man was spotted getting shots up after practice this week. He remains questionable to face the Jazz.
  • Malcolm Brogdon re-aggravated a sore right knee that has plagued him all year during Monday’s loss. His status is also still questionable after sitting the past two games.

The Jazz aren’t dealing with as many health issues but did receive concerning news on one rookie. Promising young guard Keyontae Johnson suffered an ankle injury against New York and underwent an MRI exam on Thursday. Results are still pending but his status for the Trail Blazers game remains uncertain.

Key Matchups

Lauri Markkanen vs. Any Healthy Blazers’ Big

As mentioned above, Portland’s frontcourt depth has been depleted severely by injuries. As such, Markkanen could be poised for another strong outing after posting 23 points in just 24 minutes in his return. With the Trail Blazers lacking capable defenders to slow the agile 7-footer, expect coach Will Hardy to feature him heavily in the offense. Markkanen should be able to exploit his size advantage inside and stroke open threes against Portland’s 22nd-ranked scoring defense (117.5 ppg allowed).

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Anfernee Simons vs. Collin Sexton

This showdown of dynamic guards bears monitoring. Both Simons and Sexton are coming off strong offensive showings in their last games and are the undisputed lead playmakers for their respective squads. With Portland reeling and desperate to string some wins together in front of the home fans, expect Simons to play aggressively and try to match Sexton’s energy. In the end, this battle could decide the outcome.

The key for Utah is containing Simons just enough and forcing other Blazers to beat them. For Portland, slowing down Sexton may prove too difficult with a depleted roster.

Prediction

The Jazz catch Portland at an opportune time to snag consecutive victories. Even at home, the Trail Blazers remain shorthanded while Utah receives a healthy Lauri Markkanen back. Expect Utah to control the pace and let Sexton orchestrate while Portland scrambles to fill holes defensively. In the end, the red-hot Jazz should emerge victorious to send the struggling Blazers to their fifth-straight defeat.

Final Score Prediction: Jazz 126, Trail Blazers 118

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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