The visiting Utah Jazz bring back a host of familiar faces when they face the Portland Trail Blazers in the season opener for both teams on Wednesday night.
Only a few plays separated the Jazz from a potential run to the 2020 Western Conference Finals and a first-round exit. That’s one reason why Utah felt confident in bringing back its roster from last season largely intact.
And the Jazz are determined to take steps forward in the postseason this time around.
“We need to hold ourselves to a high standard,” Utah guard Donovan Mitchell told the Deseret News. “You know, we blew a 3-1 lead. We lost in the first round, and there’s no time for that. There’s no time for slow starts.”
Bringing back Derrick Favors represented the biggest free agent addition for the Jazz. Favors spent 8 1/2 seasons in Utah before being traded to New Orleans a year ago. Utah also signed free agent guard Shaquille Harrison to provide some backcourt depth.
The Jazz were content to lock up several key contributors from previous seasons. Mitchell and Rudy Gobert both agreed to contract extensions before the new season and Jordan Clarkson re-signed with Utah on a four-year deal after emerging as the team’s sixth man last season.
Bringing home an NBA championship sometime over the next few years is squarely in their sights.
“I’m here to stay, and I’m here to WIN a championship,” Gobert wrote to Jazz fans in a letter shared to his Twitter account after agreeing to a 5-year, $205 million extension with Utah. “I’m here to win with my brothers, I’m here to win with coach (Quin Snyder) and I’m here to win with you, Utah.”
Lofty expectations also guide the Blazers coming out of an active offseason. Portland enters a new season with considerable depth, versatility, and experience on its roster.
Portland acquired Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. to shore up defense. They also brought back Enes Kanter and Carmelo Anthony to give the Blazers some scoring punch off the bench when Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum aren’t on the floor.
Both Jusuf Nurkic and Rodney Hood are back after serious injuries kept one or the other off the floor for lengthy stretches last season. Hood re-signed with the Blazers as a free agent during the offseason.
The Blazers have worked to shore up their defense after putting together one of the league’s worst defensive ratings last season. Portland still showed struggles in that department during the preseason, but the team believes progress can and will be made.
“I think in this league, you’ve got to remember things, but you’ve got to have a short memory,” Portland coach Terry Stotts told the Oregonian. “You’ve got to learn from mistakes but it’s always, for the most part, about looking forward.”
Utah won the season series with Portland 2-1 last season. The Jazz won both games played in Salt Lake City while the Blazers claimed their lone win in Portland.
–Field Level Media