Utah Jazz vs. Portland Trail Blazers report card: Jazz lack focus on road

Published: Monday, Oct. 22 2012 10:59 p.m. MDT

PORTLAND — The Jazz have played a fine preseason. Monday night in Portland, however, was an outlier. Perhaps players caught themselves thinking about the presidential debate.

Whatever the reason, Utah gave an awful display in the Pacific Northwest, committing 22 turnovers in a 120-114 defeat. What's worse, its defense had holes, as the Blazers shot 57 percent from the field, including 48 percent (12-of-25) beyond the arc. The overall percentage was in the low 60s most of the second half.

Guards: As exciting as a Mo Williams-Gordon Hayward starting backcourt is, they have got to play more defense. Williams scored 15 points, dished seven assists and didn't have much of a problem guiding a fluid offense in 25 minutes. Hayward was fine on one side of the floor, scoring eight points on 3-of-4 shooting. (Shouldn't that number be higher for Hayward in 21 minutes?) However, the two combined for seven turnovers and allowed adopted Utah sons Damian Lillard (Weber State) and Wesley Matthews (rookie Jazzman) to combine for 36 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds, scoring on a 12-of-18 effort. Lillard and Matthews did so in an average of 32 minutes, too. That won't work. GRADE: C

Forwards: With 16 combined points on 7-of-17 shooting, Paul Millsap and Williams were below average on the offensive end. Williams' 1-of-4 effort beyond the arc marked a far cry from his torrid 9-of-14 count in five previous preseason contests. After making half his field goals Monday, he's still shooting 54.5 percent (24-of-44) in these seven exhibition games. The problem was his counterpart Nicolas Batum, a 7.9 points per game scorer for his career, logged nearly as many points (27, on 9-of-15 shooting) as he did minutes. At least starter Jared Jeffries (four points, 14 minutes) didn't do much, but backup rookie Joel Freeland (11 points in 21 minutes before fouling out) did. He averaged just more than three points per game entering the game. GRADE: C-

Centers: He even spoke in an extensive Deseret News story this week about how the defense starts with him. Yet that mantra didn't prove helpful Monday. Al Jefferson (14 points, 5-of-7 shooting) did his thing when he had the ball in his hands, but he again allowed an arguably less talented man in the middle to do damage. He's pretty good, but if J.J. Hickson (16 points on 8-of-9 shooting, eight rebounds) does this sort of work against Jefferson, then imagine what Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol will do. With perfect shooting in 22 minutes, Enes Kanter (18 points, 7-of-7) was again a bright spot. He has scored in double-figures in six of these seven preseason games, shooting better than 57 percent. Apparently, holding a few Nu Skin Jazz dancers at once (as he Tweeted last week) did anything but throw off his shot. Kanter was an A- but Jefferson a C-. GRADE: B-

Bench: A healthy 61-37 scoring margin in favor of the Jazz reserves is perhaps the most encouraging aspect of this game for fans, outside of perhaps Kanter's offensive display. Derrick Favors (12 points on 4-of-8 shooting, six rebounds) recovered from a sluggish offensive start but was far from reliable defensively. With 10 turnovers, a 10-of-27 shooting performance and just one game in double figures entering Monday night, it was good to find some recalibration – although it came with little pressure, the Jazz far out of it. Randy Foye joined the Ugly Defense club, but was a positive on the other side with 10 points and five assists. So was Alec Burks (14 points). Like Favors, much of his came when the contest was out of reach. GRADE: B+

Overall: This was the game for fans to watch if they love scorched nets. However, that burn has a smell, too, and it was reeking from Utah's defense. It was a frustrating game to watch for fans who don't like seeing millionaires via a sport clearly not give their best effort on one half of the court. Big Al is right: the defense does start with him, and the middle was open far too often. No doubt, the Jazz have scorers. But so do a bunch of teams who will fall far short of the playoffs this season. GRADE: C+

Rhett Wilkinson attends Utah State University and is the co-founder and an editor of Aggie BluePrint, USU's first student magazine. Previously an intern for the Deseret News, he can be reached at rhett.wilkinson@usu.edu or on Twitter: @wilklogan

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