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- All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who injured his ankle in Wednesday’s loss to Brooklyn, will miss tonight’s game. Rookie center Meyers Leonard will make his third start of the season, with JJ Hickson sliding to power forward. “Everybody has to do a little bit more, both big guys and perimeter guys,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “It will affect our rebounding. (Aldridge) is our best interior defender. When you miss a player of his caliber, there is a little bit of a bump in energy. Over the long haul, it’s hard to make up for the loss of a player that good. But in the short term, you have the ability to rise to the occasion.” Stotts said he doesn’t expect Aldridge to go on a two-game trip that includes stops at Golden State Saturday and Utah Monday, though a decision won’t be reached until after tonight’s game.
- Aldridge’s absence won’t affect Utah’s preparation, coach Tyrone Corbin said.
- “We can’t afford to relax against these guys,” Corbin said. “They’re going to play hard. Somebody else will step up. it’s more opportunities for Damian to have the ball in his hands. They have Wes Matthews and Hickson, and those guys will be more aggressive. We have to make sure we come out ready and play at full speed.”
- Stotts said the Blazers have to shore up things on the boards. Brooklyn outrebounded them 54-40 in a 111-93 win, including 21-3 in the game’s first 14 minutes. With Aldridge out, “I’m more concerned about defense than the effect on the offense,” the Portland coach said. “We’ll manage to score some points. Defensive rebounding is our biggest concern, especially after the Brooklyn game.”
- Stotts said he will use Joel Freeland, Luke Babbitt, Victor Claver and perhaps Jared Jeffries at the 4-5 spots off the bench. “It will be by committee, and we’ll see how the game goes,” Stotts said.
- Utah (36-36) enters the night a half-game behind the Los Angeles Lakers in the battle for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. The Jazz, however, have lost nine straight road games. “You have to have confidence and feel you can win in any building,” Corbin said. “When things happen to us on the road, we haven’t fought through it as well as we’ve done at home. We need to get a win to get that confident feeling back.”
- In Portland’s first two games with Utah — a 1-1 split — rookie point guard Damian Lillard has outscored Utah starter Jamaal Tinsley 49-6. Mo Williams opens at the point tonight for the Jazz. “Damian has found his way in this league, and continues to get better, figuring out ways to be effective,” Corbin said. “His confidence is extremely high. He’s able to attack the basket and knock down shots. We have to make sure we get back on transition and not let him get on top of the basket early.”
— Kerry Eggers