SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's 92-89 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday was vastly improved compared with the contest Utah played Monday in Portland.
After committing 23 turnovers and shooting just 1-of-12 from the 3-point line Monday, the Jazz, using two different starters, improved in both categories Wednesday. They committed 20 turnovers — still plenty more than expected — and shot 5-of-16 from long range.
Utah's team defense was excellent in holding Portland to just 35 percent from the field.
GUARDS: Devin Harris provided solid point-guard play. The former Wisconsin Badger scored 10 points on an efficient 4-of-7 effort from the floor. However, he had just one assist. Aided by the efficient play of backups Earl Watson and Jamaal Tinsley, Harris also kept Blazers guard Ray Felton and company honest. Shooting guard Raja Bell was 0-of-3 from the field, but worked with rookie Alec Burks at keeping Blazers guard Jamal Crawford at bay. The former Hawks star shot just 3-of-15. Grade: B+
FORWARDS: Second-year player Derrick Favors responded from a 25-point, 12-rebound monster performance on Monday with a softer seven-point, six-rebound game in 18 minutes Wednesday. Mehmet Okur, who was replaced in the starting lineup by Favors, has yet to hit from long distance this year, but scored seven points off the bench. It remains to be seen if Okur can regain a bit of the ‘money’ moniker that has followed him. Portland forwards LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace went just 8-of-27 from the field. Much of their woes can be attributed to the energetic efforts of Favors, Gordon Hayward, who fouled out with three points and three rebounds, and Jeremy Evans, who played more than 19 minutes. Paul Millsap remained sidelined. Grade: B
CENTERS: Al Jefferson responded from a quiet seven-point game in Portland with a 15-point, nine-rebound effort in 28 minutes primarily against veteran Kurt Thomas. Blazer centers Marcus Camby and Greg Oden watched from the sideline. Enes Kanter once again proved that the Jazz management may have made a wise move in selecting him. The rookie grabbed five rebounds in 19 minutes. It will be intriguing how Kanter will stack against the Los Angeles Lakers’ Pau Gasol Tuesday. Grade: B-
BENCH: Watson continued to show steady play in scoring four points and grabbing four rebounds in 21 minutes of play. Tinsley also did a fantastic job in 12 minutes of work, scoring six points and notching six rebounds. Burks went bucketless in eight attempts from the floor, making him 3-for-18 for the preseason. Small forward Josh Howard seemed to find his groove a little more. The former all-star scored eight points on 3-of-5 shooting. Evans scored nine points and Okur’s play seemed to indicate that he may fit well in a backup role, especially with Jefferson, Millsap and Favors all vying for time at similar positions. C.J. Miles scored 17 points and nine rebounds in a backup role that he has clearly expressed that he wishes not to continue, if possible, though he did receive starter’s time with 28 minutes. Grade: B+
COACHING: Tyrone Corbin seemed to make a good move in placing Favors in the lineup in place of Okur. It will be quite intriguing to see how the Favors-Millsap battle for minutes at the position develops, unless Corbin decides simply to place his best players on the floor by shifting Millsap to the ‘3’ alongside Favors and Jefferson. It’s not out of the equation, considering reports that said that Millsap spent much of the offseason improving his outside game. Corbin also made an interesting move in placing Hayward in the starting lineup in place of Miles, though fans did not see a full comparison of the two since Hayward fouled out. Corbin may have made the move just to breed competition at a spot that may become more congested if Millsap slides there. Corbin also made a smart move in giving Tinsley, who was a great spark, 13 minutes of action. Tinsely did not play on Monday. Grade: A-
OVERALL: The Jazz showed major strides in their first home game of the 2011-12 season at EnergySolutions Arena, although analysis is somewhat jaded since it not typical for a team to lose to the same ballclub twice in a row. With the addition of Millsap, the Jazz truly can have a powerful front court, especially when you throw 6-foot-9 Evans in the mix. The jury is out whether veterans Watson and Tinsley can maintain consistent play behind Harris, or if they are truly past their prime. Kanter has certainly been the more impressive rookie than Burks, who will need to actually make shots if he expects to stay in the rotation. Burks should be out of the rotation if Corbin decides to clear up the small forward position by playing Miles more there with Bell. Burks — and every Jazzman, for that matter — may have just drawn an easier assignment in his first official regular-season game if Kobe Bryant can’t play due to his newly sustained injury to his right wrist. With 43 turnovers through two games, the Jazz must take care of the ball, though that issue may be ironed out over time. But how much time can the team take in a shortened season? Grade: B
Rhett Wilkinson is a journalism and speech communications major at Utah State University. He has previously been an intern for the Deseret News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at Twitter: wilklogan