One of the biggest questions surrounding the youthful Utah Jazz roster was how they might perform in a close game. After leading for most of the first half, the Jazz struggled in the second, resulting in a 99-92 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. It was close throughout the fourth quarter, but Utah could not make the plays to counter Portland’s down the stretch. Chalk this up as a learning experience for the season ahead.
With both teams playing mostly their projected line-ups, the Jazz and Blazers treated this game as if it was a regular season outing. After a pair of listless efforts, Utah came out with a much more encouraging energy and better defensive rotations. Utah's relative inexperience showed as the veteran laden Trail Blazer team played with a lot of savvy, outscoring the Jazz 58-43 in the second half.
Last year’s Rookie of the Year and former Weber State guard Damian Lillard paced Portland with 24 points, while former Jazzman Mo Williams chipped in 17. Utah big man Enes Kanter had 23 points, including 16 in the first quarter. Gordon Hayward added 20 points of his own.
Life without Trey
With point guard Trey Burke undergoing surgery Tuesday, the bout with Portland was the first game sans Utah's prized rookie. The results were mixed. John Lucas III got the start in his absence and had a modest eight-point, three-assist game. Hayward had the ball in his hands a lot, something that was most likely in Utah’s plans, with or without Burke. He finished with a game-high seven assists.
That said, only 16 of Utah’s 31 field goals were assisted and the Jazz turned the ball over 17 times. The absence of a true point guard was evident in the waning minutes as some sloppy execution affected by some stout Portland defense sealed the Jazz’s fate. Utah had just a 38 percent shooting night from the floor.
Making their case
While Scott Machado and Dominic McGuire seemed to have some traction for a pair of the final roster spots, a few training camp invitees decided to make the decisions even more difficult. Guards Lester Hudson and Justin Holiday both threw their names into contention to stick come opening night.
Hudson, a three-year NBA veteran, was one of the bright spots for Utah. In 27 minutes, he showed some abilities on both ends of the court. He played some gritty defense and showed that he could hit from long distance. Hudson finished with nine points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals. More importantly, he played most of the fourth quarter. Holiday, All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday’s older brother, also displayed a nice perimeter stroke. He had seven points in 14 minutes. They were the only training camp free agents who saw playing time.
Odds and ends:
- Alec Burks had a rough evening, totaling just four points in 32 minutes. He missed 12 of his 13 field goal attempts and only had one assist.
- Offseason acquisition Robin Lopez was huge for Portland, both literally and figuratively. He tallied 13 points and 13 rebounds. His addition allows Trail Blazer All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge to move back to his natural role at power forward.
- With the NBA’s emphasis on increasing the average game’s pace, there was a bevy of delay of game calls Wednesday, mostly on Portland.
- Rookie center Rudy Gobert has not played the last two games.
David Smith provides instant analysis for Deseret News' Utah Jazz coverage. He works for LDS Philanthropies and also writes for Salt City Hoops and Utah Jazz 360. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at davidjsmith1232.