TV: League Pass
- Tonight is a homecoming for Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard. The leading Rookie of the Year candidate played his college ball at nearby Weber State. It will be Lillard’s first regular season game in Utah, and he’ll certainly have his share of fans cheering for him tonight. Lillard, who signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans after his pregame workout, has been outstanding as a rookie, averaging 18.1 points and 6.5 assists per game. There could be extra pressure on Lillard to perform tonight, but Portland coach Terry Stotts is confident he’ll handle it just fine. “Damian is a remarkable young man,” Stotts said. “He doesn’t get too high or too low. He went back to Oakland (his hometown) and put on a show there. He’s been back here in a preseason game. He’s a mature young man. I’m sure there’s a little extra motivation on the inside, but nonetheless I think he kind of takes it as it comes.”
- The Utah Jazz will be without key reserve and third-leading scorer Gordon Hayward for the third straight game. Hayward is still recuperating from a right shoulder sprain suffered against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night. “He’s getting better,” said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. “We want to make sure that before he gets back on the floor he’s 100 percent.”
- This is the first of back-to-back games between the two teams. They will play again on Saturday night in Portland.
- The Jazz defeated the Trail Blazers all four times they played last season. It was the fourth time Utah swept a season series from Portland. Stotts, the Trail Blazers’ first-year coach, said he didn’t bother looking back at last season’s games to help him prepare for tonight. “It would be different if a lot of these players were here and I was here,” Stotts said. “This is a new group and I don’t know what there would be to learn by that. I think it’s important for us to grow and figure things out from our start here.”
- Joel Freeland is inactive for Portland tonight due to an illness. Stotts said reserve forward Sasha Pavlovic is unlikely to play because of plantar fasciitis.
- Portland could be a tough matchup for Utah. The Trail Blazers excel at running pick-and-roll, and the Jazz have a difficult time defending it. “They have a good young guy in Damian and LaMarcus (Aldridge) setting a lot of those screens and they can bring a change with a guy like (J.J.) Hickson,” Corbin said. “They give you different looks with different personnel and you have to make those adjustments.”
– Andrew Aragon