SALT LAKE CITY — New starting lineup. Same result.
For the first time since the preseason, the Utah Jazz tipped a game off with their young Foundation Five players on the court together.
While the starting ensemble of Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter added some intrigue and provided a fresh start to Friday’s game, it wasn’t enough to keep the Portland Trail Blazers from leaving EnergySolutions Arena with a 111-99 victory.
“Marvin (Williams) is out, so we wanted to try and look at a couple different things,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “I thought Alec did a good job of everything and picked the pace up some for us. I thought the guys came out focused and executed the game plan for the most part.”
All five starters scored at least 14 points and found multiple ways to contribute in a mostly competitive game, which saw Utah take a 31-23 lead after the first 12 minutes before things tightened up for the next two quarters.
Favors led the Jazz in scoring with 21 points despite early foul trouble that took the power forward out less than four minutes in.
Center Kanter (15 points, 13 rebounds) and point guard Burke (14 points, 11 assists) racked up double-doubles. Burks had 16 points in a career-high 42 minutes and Hayward had a solid all-around effort of 14 points, six assists and five rebounds.
Although the end result was the same — a third consecutive loss and the 19th setback in 22 outings — the Jazz youngsters were excited to get a rare opportunity to play together. Not only was this the first time they’d stared at the same time since the third game of the preseason (Burke’s injury game), but they’d only been on the court together for 74 minutes all season long.
“It provides experience. You can’t teach that,” Hayward said. “Playing together, when you get that experience, you get chemistry. You can’t teach that.”
“That’s what fans have been waiting for,” Kanter added. “ We’re still trying to get used to each other. We’re still learning the plays, learning (how to) play together, but I think it’s going to work out really well in the end.”
Unfortunately for the Jazz, that wasn’t the case on this night.
While the Jr. Jazz starters each had their moments, another young player Utah basketball fans are familiar with foiled an upset bid.
Former Weber State star Damian Lillard scored 14 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Blazers turn a tight game into a blowout in the final 10 minutes.
Lillard hit four 3-pointers in the final period, including back-to-back bombs during a 9-2 run that helped Portland take the lead for good early in the quarter.
“It was only a matter of time,” former Jazzman Wesley Matthews (21 points, eight rebounds) said of how Lillard heated up in the fourth quarter. “He’s a real-life microwave.”
Portland won its third straight overall and beat Utah for the fourth time this season, marking the first time the Blazers have ever swept the Jazz. Lillard and Co. also improved to 52-28, pulling within a half-game of fifth-place Houston with less than a week until playoff seeding is finalized.
Utah benefited in the lottery jockeying. Thanks to their loss and Boston’s win over the Bobcats, the Jazz are now tied for the NBA’s fourth-worst record at 24-55 with three games left.
Despite that, the Jazz made Portland earn this win.
"They played a good game. It was a real tough three quarters," Lillard said. "Other guys had it going for the most part, but in the fourth quarter it was a tight game down the stretch and I got a little more aggressive and I was able to make some things happen."
Burks’ insertion into the starting lineup wasn’t the only surprise Corbin had for Jazz fans.
Erratically used French rookie center Rudy Gobert made a first-quarter appearance, and the Stifle Tower quickly made his 7-foot-1 presence felt by blocking a shot.
Gobert was one of only four players to get off the bench, and finished with seven points and six rebounds. Although he only logged 11 minutes, that was more than he’d seen in the previous four games combined. It was just the second time since February that he had double-digit minutes.
“It feels good. I’ve been waiting for this moment,” Gobert said. “It feels good to play. I feel good. I’m in good shape. I was just trying to make it tough for the other team, protect the basket and block shots. I’m tall, so that’s what I like to do.”
Veteran forward Richard Jefferson scored eight points in his first reserve role of the season after starting in the other 79 games.
The Jazz were without Williams, who is suffering from a left knee bone bruise. The forward remained in Utah while the team traveled to Denver after Friday’s game and will not play against the Nuggets on Saturday.
“It’s always exiting to see a lot of familiar faces and a lot of people I’ve grown really close with,” said Lillard, who’s been named the Rookie of the Year and an All-Star since wrapping up his Weber State career in 2012. “I enjoy coming back.”
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