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Kevin Durant gave up life on the wind-swept plains to move to a fogged-in Bay, making the NBA's super team even more super and a favorite to win back the title it let slip away last June. The Clippers' stars in Hollywood, however, have a different ending in mind.
In Oklahoma City and Houston respectively, Russell Westbrook and James Harden are one-man wrecking crews, out to prove themselves all over again. In Portland, Damian Lillard is letting himself daydream of championship parades. In San Antonio, the Spurs mapping out their route without the help of Tim Duncan.
And as the NBA season gets under way this week, the Utah Jazz are just trying to figure out their place in a shifting conference landscape.
"I understand it's the wild, wild West," veteran forward Joe Johnson said. "It's going to be tough."
Even the team's newcomers know how agonizingly close the Jazz came to the playoffs last spring, missing out on the last day of the season and finishing with a 40-42 record. Getting over that hump is why those newcomers Johnson and veterans George Hill and Boris Diaw were brought to Salt Lake City.
And some lofty expectations came with them.
Vegas oddsmakers picked the Jazz for 49 wins this season. ESPN has predicted Utah will finish no lower than the 5th seed in the West, taking on the Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs come April. At fivethirtyeight.com, home of statistician extraordinaire Nate Silver, the Jazz are projected to win a whopping 51 games. Only the Warriors, Cavaliers and Spurs are projected for more.
The Jazz have done their best to ignore those outside distractions.
"To be honest, I haven't even thought about expectations," shooting guard Rodney Hood said. "I haven't been listening to what everybody's been saying. I know we can be a better team than we've been and we've added some key pieces. But we've got to continue to get better every single day, get some guys healthy and hit stride."
After limping out of training camp with starters Gordon Hayward (broken finger) and Derrick Favors (IT Band Syndrome) hurt, and sixth man Alec Burks (knee rehabilitation) yet to suit up for a practice, Jazz coach Quin Snyder has splashed some cold realism onto those high hopes.
"We're a little bit of a fashionable pick," Snyder said. "But that was with Gordon and Derrick and Alec."
Those three players a season ago were three of the Jazz's top scorers by average (19.7, 16.4 and 13.3 points per game respectively) and a trio Snyder leaned on heavily at the close of games.
"So I don't know how to factor all that in personally," the coach said. "I'd like to think we can be competitive. But our margin for error is a lot smaller. We don't stack up as good as we did a month ago … because our roster looks different than it did a month ago."
Tuesday night's season-opener in Portland would have marked the start of a tough stretch even before injuries started piling up. The Jazz will kick off the season by playing eight of their first 11 games on the road.
"I think it's challenging no matter who you play or where," forward Joe Ingles said. "The start of the year, everybody's probably a little unknown."
But after disappointing as a popular sleeper pick a season ago, the Jazz know they have a chance to finally wake up and prove they belong among the best in the West.
"We've got a lot of guys, man, who really understand how to play the game," Johnson said. "It should come pretty easy, but obviously you've got to get out there between the lines and play. We'll do whatever we can to keep this thing afloat until guys like Gordon and big fella Derrick Favors get back."
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Jazz at Trail Blazers
P At Moda Center (Portland, Ore.)
Tipoff • Tuesday, 8 p.m.
TV • ROOT. Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Last meeting • Damian Lillard scored 27 points to help Portland close out its preseason with a win in Salt Lake City on Oct. 19.
About the Blazers • Former Weber State star Damian Lillard averaged 28.7 points per game last season against the Jazz. … Shooting guard C.J. McCollum signed a $106-million extension over the summer after averaging 20.8 points per game last season. … Beat the Jazz in three of their four meetings a season ago.
About the Jazz • Looking to increase pace this season after playing as the league's slowest team a year ago. … Forward Derrick Favors has increased practice participation this week but is still questionable to play in the season opener. … Shooting guard Rodney Hood averaged 16.3 points per game against the Blazers last season, his highest mark against any Western Conference opponent.