PORTLAND — Riding a three-game win streak and winners of nine of their previous 10 games, the Utah Jazz entered Moda Center on Wednesday as one of the league’s hottest teams.
Even with that being said, they knew better than to take the Portland Trail Blazers lightly, especially on their home floor with an ESPN national audience watching.
“Every game matters. We are in this point of the season where one game can get you from the first seed to out of the playoffs, so we’ve just got to be ready for that mentally,” Jazz guard Ricky Rubio said during shootaround. “We had that same situation last year and we fought and we got to the playoffs.
“This year is going to be a fun race, too, and we’re going to enjoy it, but at the same time we’ve got to put our best effort.”
Despite Utah topping Portland in two of their three previous meetings, the Trail Blazers dusted the Jazz 132-105 during the fourth and final regular season matchup of Northwest Division rivals.
From the opening tip, Blazers guards CJ McCollum and former Weber State star Damian Lillard set the tone, helping Portland post a 74-point first-half effort. Although Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic was sidelined with right knee soreness, it really didn’t matter.
Meyers Leonard started in Nurkic’s place for the first time this season to post eight of his 16 points in the first quarter.
But the high-scoring duo of Lillard and McCollum was the real problem as they combined for 66 points with Lillard going off for 36 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds while McCollum added 30 points and two steals on 12-for-17 shooting.
“I thought we came out focused with the attention to detail on the defensive end,” Leonard said.
McCollum opened 9 for 9 from the field with 20 first quarter points, including a step-back jumper against Joe Ingles to beat the buzzer and give the Blazers a 45-27 edge.
As a team, Portland shot a blistering 75 percent from the field in the first 12 minutes. Although Utah shot 52.6 percent, it still trailed by as many as 20 in the first quarter, then fell behind 74-58 at halftime.
Donovan Mitchell finished with a team-high 22 points, four rebounds and two assists — ending his streak of at least 24 points in 12 consecutive games. He helped the Jazz get within 10 with seven quick third-quarter points to start until Portland once again caught fire and went up by 33 in the fourth.
The Jazz were also playing without Thabo Sefolosha (mild right hamstring strain) and Dante Exum (left ankle sprain), who have missed the last 12 games, plus Raul Neto (left groin strain), who hasn’t played since Jan. 9.
Sefolosha and Exum will miss at least another week, while Exum isn’t projected to return until after the All-Star break in mid-February.
There wasn’t much that went well for the Jazz, but Derrick Favors did pass John Stockton for third place all-time in franchise history for rebounds. Favors grabbed five rebounds with 12 points and now only trails Mark Eaton (6,939) and Karl Malone (14,601) on the list with 4,055.
Rudy Gobert ended with 15 points, nine rebounds and two blocks after logging a double-double in 10 of his last 12 games between the two teams. Ingles finished with 14 points and five assists while Rubio scored 12 points with seven assists.2 comments on this story
Utah (29-23) will return to action on Friday against the Atlanta Hawks at 7 p.m. at Vivint Arena after going 11-4 in the month of January.
On Thursday, Mitchell and Gobert will also wait to see if they’re selected as reserves for the 2019 NBA All-Star Game when names are announced live on TNT at 5 p.m. MT.
“Hopefully we have at least one guy who makes it here this week,” said Jazz guard Kyle Korver. “So, I think Rudy is definitely deserving, Donovan the last month has been really special. The West is tough so we’ll see what happens.”