SALT LAKE CITY — Perhaps it was too much eggnog or an overdose of stocking candy during their Christmas break.
Maybe the Utah Jazz are simply allergic to days off.
And, for whatever odd reason, its starting to look like they prefer to be booed at rather than cheered for during games.
Combine all of that with a motivated Portland team — sparked by ex-Jazzman Wesley Matthews grit and LaMarcus Aldridges length and skill — and the result wasnt pretty for the Jazz.
Earning a bit of payback, the ramped-up and defensive-minded Trail Blazers took it to a lackluster Utah squad for a 96-91 road victory at EnergySolutions Arena on Monday night.
They took the life out of us, I guess, because they busted us in the mouth and everything else, and we fell out like flies, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. You play games like this at home and in your building, weve got to be a little tougher than what we were.
Aldridge led the Blazers (16-15) with 26 points and seven rebounds, and Portland also got strong performances from a couple of familiar faces to Utah basketball fans.
Matthews, in his first game back in Utah since signing with Portland in the offseason after a strong rookie season with the Jazz, struggled from the field but scored 14 points. Though he had five early turnovers, the second-year guard added eight rebounds, three assists, a steal and played stifling defense.
Former Ute Andre Miller turned in a 17-point performance, including five late clutch free throws, to push Portland over Utah.
The Blazers victory snapped the Jazzs three-game winning streak and ended a five-game skid Portland had going against Utah. It was also the struggling Northwest Division rivals first win in Utah in six tries.
They just played better than us, said Jazz point guard Deron Williams, who had a game-high 31 points with six assists but five turnovers.
They stood us up and they were physical, the All-Star added, and I dont think we screened well and didnt get open and didnt get good looks.
That, strangely, especially seemed to be the case after the Jazz took a 53-46 lead early in the third quarter.
Matthews drained a 3-pointer to snap Portland out of a funk, and the Blazers didnt stop snapping until theyd reeled off a 14-0 run.
Utah responded with a late third-quarter spurt, sparked by a pair of Raja Bell 3-pointers, to tie the game heading into the fourth quarter.
But the Blazers seized control in the final period and maintained a three-to-five point lead for most of the quarter as the Jazz failed to find traction or consistent scoring against the driven visitors.
I think we were just out of sync and a bit sluggish, Bell said. We came out and didnt seem to be moving around crisp. We werent moving period sometimes offensively. We were kind of stationary, and that put us in a tough spot.
Williams made things exciting in the final 31 seconds, scoring 10 points to trim a seven-point Portland lead to three with 7.7 ticks remaining after his second long bomb in a row. But it was too little, too late for the lethargic Jazz.
You have to give them credit, said Sloan, whose team led 27-20 after the first quarter. They came in here and wanted the ballgame. They missed some shots early, but they came right back.
The loss was Utahs sixth in 17 games at home already this season (after a 32-9 record at ESA last season). Conversely, the Jazz have a superior 10-4 mark on the road.
Its bad. Weve always been a good home team and not-so-good road team, and this year were a better road team than we are at home, Williams said. I wish we could turn it around, keep winning on the road and get some of these victories at home.
Portland took advantage of Utah on the boards again, and this time it haunted the Jazz. They were able to overcome a big rebounding deficit (48-38) at the Rose Garden last month when they rallied from 11 down to pull out an overtime win, but the Blazers crashed the glass for a pivotal 41-31 advantage in this one.
The Blazers converted their 10 offensive boards into 13 second-chance points, while also outscoring Utah 40-32 inside the paint.
On top of that, the Jazz only dished out 17 assists in an uncharacteristically selfish game.
We came out sluggish, couldnt find energy, Williams said. But youve got to give them credit. They took us out of our stuff. They defended us well. They made plays when they needed to.
Oddly, this was the second time the Jazz, who hadnt played since their comeback win in Minnesota last Wednesday, have lost after having a break of four or more days. Their first well-rested loss came after four days off when they lost at New Orleans, 100-71, to begin their pre-Christmas trip.28 comments on this story
The defeat spoiled the home return of Mehmet Okur, who received a standing ovation upon entering the game in the first quarter. Because of his eight-month rehab for a ruptured Achilles tendon, this was the first time hed played at ESA since the final game of the 2009-10 regular season.
Okur, whod missed the last two games with a sprained right ankle, scored six points with five rebounds off the bench.
It means a lot, Okur said of his warm reception. The people come tonight out there and cheer for me and our team, and it was unbelievable feeling.
Too bad the Jazz didnt give them much to cheer about after that.