Jazz slow down Blazers 109-96

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

After playing with house money for almost an entire week, December ended in the way much of the month went for the Blazers: with a loss. The Utah Jazz defeated the Blazers 109-96 despite 32 points, seven rebounds and six assists from CJ McCollum. The Jazz put distance between themselves and the Blazers with 27 points from Trey Burke off the Utah bench as well as a 23-point, 10-rebound double-double from Gordon Hayward.

McCollum was fantastic for the Blazers, scoring over 30 points for the second time in three games, a stretch in which McCollum has scored 96 total points. He’s been phenomenal and has led the Blazers to three straight wins without Damian Lillard. But the joy ride without Lillard came to an end Thursday as the Blazers’ defense and supporting players didn’t deliver to keep the roll going into the new year.

The game was tied at 25 after the first quarter but things started in Utah’s control. After the first quarter, the scoreboard quickly shifted in favor of the Jazz, thanks to Burke’s hot shooting.┬áThe Blazers had success without Damian Lillard mostly because of McCollum as well as other strong performances from Crabbe and Leonard, but they also had solid defense in each of those three wins. Thursday night, the defense wasn’t where they’d had it in each of their past three wins with the Jazz hitting tough shots but also getting easy looks thanks to Portland turnovers and defensive miscues.

Damian Lillard

Without Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, Utah’s best chance to win is to slow the game down. But they started off hot offensively, which helped them establish a tone of Portland having to play from behind.

The loss of guard Alec Burks has been perceived around the league as a major blow to the Jazz, but it’s easy to forget that Rodney Hood very recently supplanted Burks as a better player. After going 1-for-13 from the field Wednesday night in a 14-point loss to the Timberwolves, Hood dominated the Blazers. Hood had 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists, going to work against the Blazers off the dribble when the ball was swung to him and in pick and roll situations. His size appeared to present problems for Portland’s wing defenders.

However, Hood’s dominance would have likely just been a nice side story for the Jazz had it not been for their defense. Or Portland’s carelessness with the ball. The Blazers were sloppy with the ball in the first half, which allowed the Jazz to get in transition, but the Jazz also made some smart plays in certain situations. One such play was a steal by Trey Lyles in the second half, where he smartly read that Plumlee rarely goes for a shot when he gets the ball in the post and floated towards Leonard before getting a steal. According to the NBA, the Jazz had 24 points off of Portland’s 11 turnovers. Turnovers weren’t as much of a problem in the second half for the Blazers.

McCollum had it going for the Blazers once again. And Meyers Leonard hit some pretty tough shots, finishing with 17 points and five 3-pointers. But pretty much everyone else for the Blazers left a lot to be desired offensively. Al-Farouq Aminu got himself in trouble with the dribble and the Jazz made the right reads in guarding Plumlee when he got the ball in the post or put the ball on the floor.

Burke also outplayed ever Blazers bench player in the first half and was a major reason why the Jazz cruised to victory.

Stotts left Leonard in the game at center as the only big man, likely to try and get hot from the field and make a comeback. But unlike Sunday’s win over Sacramento, the Blazers couldn’t get a stop with Leonard in at center Thursday with a lot of the struggles coming on the glass. The Jazz deserve credit for getting the Blazers defense and Leonard moving from side to side. The line-up that Stotts tried to make a comeback with had a net-rating of 24.2 in nine minutes of play but a defensive rating of 139.5. Even tough the unit of Leonard, McCollum, Harkless, Crabbe and Tim Frazier shot 67 percent from the field together and the same rate from the 3-point line, they only outscored the Jazz by two points.

That’s in part to plays like this one.

https://vine.co/v/iqLlDll0Pg1/embed

If the Blazers get Lillard back on Sunday when they travel to Denver to face the Nuggets, they’ll have finished a stretch of six games without him having gone 3-3. The fact that they got three wins without Lillard was a surprise. But tonight was as good of an opportunity to get a win as their previous three games. And even though they lost, it still might be in their best interest to rest Lillard, at least when they take on Denver. A back-to-back doesn’t seem like an ideal time to bring Lillard back. But you never know.

The Jazz get a nice bounce back win to enter 2016 with a two-game lead for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Even though the Blazers lost, they rebounded pretty well from a pretty rough December that caused their best player to miss six games.

Notes

  • Moe Harkless had a tough night shooting from the outside after two solid games. Overall, he was 3-for-9 from the field but 0-for-5 from long-range. He and Al-Farouq Aminu each had their chances guarding Hayward but they failed to slow him down or make him work on the other end.
  • Plumlee and Aminu were a combined 3-for-12 from the field tonight. As I stated above, the Jazz read Plumlee well and even if it didn’t lead to a turnover, they took away the easy looks that seemed abundant against a bad Nuggets team.
  • Ed Davis only played nine minutes. It’s unclear how much he’s being bothered by the left ankle injury that he suffered in their blowout win over Cleveland. He had 3 points and 1 rebound in his nine minutes, most of which came during Utah’s dominant second quarter.
  • The Blazers are off until Sunday when they play the Nuggets. Lillard’s status as of now is questionable.

 

Erik Gundersen

Erik Gundersen

Erik Gundersen is the Trail Blazers beat reporter for The Columbian. He's a graduate of the Allen School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon in addition earning a degree in Spanish. He's covered the NBA for four seasons. You can also occasionally find his work on ESPN.com's NBA section for their TrueCities series. He also fist-bumped with Kanye West once. Follow @BlazerBanter on twitter for more Blazers and NBA news.

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