SALT LAKE CITY – – Portland has taken another big step toward securing a top-six seed in the upcoming NBA Playoffs.
Damian Lillard scored 30 points and CJ McCollum added 26 to lead the Trail Blazers to a 105-98 victory over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night.
Carmelo Anthony added 18 points for Portland. Jusuf Nurkic had 11 points and 15 rebounds. The Trail Blazers have won their fifth straight game and earned their ninth victory in their last 10. Portland is tied with Dallas for fifth place in the Western Conference.
Jordan Clarkson scored 29 points to lead Utah. Rudy Gobert added 15 points and 20 rebounds for the Jazz, who lost their second straight game. Utah now holds a 1-1 / 2 game lead over Phoenix for the best NBA record.
Strong defense and effective offense have helped the Trail Blazers move up the standings in the closing weeks of the regular season.
âWe defended. We shared the ball, âsaid Lillard. âWe were able to maintain that level of focus and level of play for longer periods of time. That’s why we win matches.
It made all the difference in the second half against the Jazz.
Utah endured a pair of eight-minute periods starting each of the last two quarters where he scored just one basket. The Jazz missed 11 of 12 shots over an eight-minute period to start the third quarter. Then they missed eight of nine shots in the first eight minutes of the fourth.
âThey made everything more difficult for us,â center Rudy Gobert said. They played very physically. It was harder for us to do what we wanted to do. Despite all of this, we have had a lot of open plans. Another day we probably do these shots and it’s a different game.
The Jazz’s cold shot opened the door for Portland to take control.
The Trail Blazers quickly capitalized on the first dry spell, taking an 84-71 lead at the end of the quarter following back-to-back baskets from Anthony and Lillard.
The Jazz drew 90-81 on a Gobert second chance dunk. But it was their only basket for the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter. Portland reduced the lead to double digits for good amid the drought and extended their lead to 97-81 on a Lillard layup with 4:19 left.
Utah struggled offensively, in part because the Trail Blazers turned down the transition baskets. The Jazz scored just two counterattack points in 48 minutes.
âThey were working hard,â Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. âMaybe the most important thing for us is to try to stay out of the game on the half court. We made a foul and it slowed the game down because we are not able to push the ball, whether to make or miss, and that is what we did well.
Utah charged out of the gates in the first quarter. The Jazz made their first seven shots and scored on six straight possessions to carve out a 16-4 lead. Joe Ingles and Rudy Gobert each scored back-to-back baskets to fuel the hot start.
Portland weathered the wave and slashed Utah’s lead to overtake the Jazz in the second quarter. The Trail Blazers had nine of their first 12 shots to open the quarter and scored on four straight possessions, culminating with a 3-pointer from Norman Powell, to take a 49-46 lead.
“We got off the road early and kept our cool,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. âWe kept competing, found a way to get closer in the first quarter. “
McCollum played the biggest role in starting Portland’s offense in the second quarter. He had six baskets and totaled 13 points during the quarter.
McCollum beat the buzzer at halftime with a quick jump after landing a long pass from Nurkic to give the Trail Blazers a 59-56 lead. The scoring game came just after a Gobert layup with 1.1 seconds left at the half. It ended up giving Portland a huge boost when entering the locker room.
âWe could have walked into the locker room on a very deflating game,â Stotts said. âInstead, we peaked with a 3 point lead. “
âIt’s what our identity has always been. We put our helmets on. Blue collar team. – Lillard on the Trail Blazers ending the regular season strong.
Trail Blazers: Enes Kanter scored 3 points in the first quarter – his first outside basket of the season. The Blazers were 0 of 5 in a 3-point range before Kanter broke the ice. â¦ Anthony returned to the lineup after missing two games with a sprained right ankle. â¦ Portland did not commit any third quarter sales and finished with just five total sales.
Jazz: Gobert finished with at least 20 rebounds for the sixth time this season. â¦ Udoka Azubuike played an NBA game for the first time since late January after missing 41 games with a severe sprained right ankle. â¦ Utah dominated Portland 11-0 for second-half points in the second half.
The Trail Blazers visit Phoenix on Thursday.
Jazz visits Oklahoma City on Friday.