If you circled Saturday’s game between the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz on the schedule as a must-watch matchup between two Western Conference powers then you saw something not many others could see.
Two of the most surprising teams in the NBA will play in what amounts to an important early-season game between teams tied for first in the West.
Prior to the season, the over/under for Portland victories was 40.5. Utah, 23.5.
Yet here they are with a combined 21 victories already.
The Blazers (10-5) at least made moves to upgrade their roster in hopes of a quick turnaround after a 27-55 season. The Jazz (11-6), on the other hand, traded away their best two players, Donovan Mitchell (Cleveland) and Rudy Gobert (Minnesota). The players they received in return, Lauri Markkanen and Collin Sexton (both from Cleveland), as well as Malik Beasley, Walker Kessler, Leandro Bolmaro and Jarred Vanderbilt (all from Minnesota) were not expected by most to impact winning.
Nevertheless, Markkanen is having a breakthrough season while Sexton is back to playing well after missing 71 games last season because of a knee injury. Also, Beasley and Kessler are providing solid depth while Vanderbilt is starting.
They all joined Mike Conley Jr., Jordan Clarkson and Kelly Olynyk (acquired from Detroit). Just like that, Danny Ainge, CEO of basketball operations, has assembled a winner that has already defeated several winning teams, such as Denver, New Orleans, Memphis (twice), the LA Clippers, Atlanta and Phoenix.
On Friday night, the Jazz won 134-133 over the Suns. Markkanen scored a career-high 38 points on 15-of-18 shooting.
Utah’s offense has been a key reason for its success. The Jazz entered Friday ranked eighth in offensive rating (115.4) and fifth in scoring (116.6 points per game). But the defense isn’t bad, either. The Jazz rank ninth in defensive rating (112.1). Their net rating of plus-2.5 ranks seventh. The Blazers net rating of plus-2.07 ranks 11th.
These two teams will meet again in Utah on Dec. 3.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS VS. UTAH JAZZ
What: Trail Blazers (10-5) vs. Jazz (11-6), 7 p.m., Saturday.
Where: Moda Center.
Radio: Rip City Radio (KPOJ 620 AM).
TV channel: Root Sports Plus (in Portland: Comcast 1253, DirecTV 687-1).
Watch the game live online: You can watch this game live for FREE with fuboTV (free trial). You can also get this game on DirecTV Stream’s “CHOICE” package (promotional offers), if you are out of fuboTV trials, or simply prefer that platform and their pricing plans. If you already have a cable or satellite provider that carries Root Sports and want to watch online, you can watch this game live on Root Sports Live. Games can also be watched through EvocaTV with a monthly subscription.
ODDS: Not available.
Blazers: Nassir Little (left calf soreness) is questionable. Keon Johnson (hip pointer), Gary Payton II (return to competition reconditioning), Ibou Badji (G League) and Greg Brown III (G League) are out.
Jazz: Rudy Gay (hand injury) is out.
The Blazers start a four-game trip with a 5 p.m. game Monday at Milwaukee (11-3).
— Aaron Fentress | afentress@Oregonian.com | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook). Subscribe to Oregonian/OregonLive newsletters and podcasts