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Blazers Head Into All-Star Break with Sour Taste After Loss at Utah

by Cody Sharrett

In need of a break from basketball, the Portland Trail Blazers (23-33) go into the NBA All-Star break having lost five of their last six following a 111-88 defeat to the Utah Jazz (35-22) in front of 19,590 fans at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City Wednesday night.

Both sides got off to troublesome starts from the field with the Blazers shooting just 30.4% in the first quarter while the Jazz went just 6-of-21 and missed their final 10 shots of the opening quarter. A bright spot for the Blazers was Meyers Leonard nailing both of his three-point attempts in the first few minutes to lead the visitors with six points in the quarter. Newcomer Jusuf Nurkić made his Portland debut at the 4:22 mark of the first period to record two points, three rebounds, a block and two turnovers in his first few minutes as a Blazer. 

“Our offense was a struggle all night,” said Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Obviously, they’re a very good defensive team. I thought some of it, especially early, that we had some shots that didn’t drop.”

Utah’s shooting fortunes changed in the second quarter, as the home team shot 47% in the period to prompt a 17-6 run. The Jazz’s lead extended to as many as 14 in the first half. After sitting for a bulk of the first half, CJ McCollum returned to court at the 2:42 mark of the quarter to score seven straight Blazer run, sparking an 11-0 run to end the half with Portland trailing Utah, 40-37.

Though the Blazers claimed a modest lead early in the second half, it would be short lived. After going up 41-40, the Jazz would rattle off a 20-4 run led by Gordon Hayward’s 13 points in the third quarter. Portland’s shooting struggles persisted and the Blazers went into the fourth down 12 at 74-62. Utah’s hot shooting would continue in the fourth, outscoring the Portland 37-26 in the final period to hand the visitors the decisive defeat. 

In total, the Jazz out-shot the Blazers 51.9% to 40.5%. The home side was red-hot from beyond the arc in the final three quarters, shooting 50% on 22 three-point attempts throughout the evening. Portland committed 17 turnovers in the loss, leading to 18 Utah points. 

Despite foul trouble for most of the game, McCollum led the Blazers with 18 points on 8-of-19 shooting. The newcomer Nurkić finished with 13 points on 5-of-5 from the field to go with seven rebounds in 21 minutes of work off the bench in the Bosnian’s debut.

"I feel great," Nurkić said of his debut. "I wish we win, but overall, I made open shots. It was a tough game for us, but I think we're going to get better after break."

Entering Wednesday's game as the Blazers' leading scorer at 26 points per game, Damian Lillard scored 13 points on the evening, struggling from the field to shoot just 3-of-19. 

“They’re a really good defensive team," a frustrated Lillard told media after the game. "I just could never get it going. I felt even when I got looks that I know I should make, it seemed like the ball was rolling around the rim and rattling in and out. I just could never get it going."

The Jazz’s lone All-Star representative, Hayward scored a game-high 22 points to complement seven assists and six rebounds. Point guard George Hill added 19 points for Utah, while Joe Ingles shot 7-of-9 from the field to score 18 points in the Jazz win. Frenchman Rudy Gobert finished with a double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds. 

The Blazers now disperse for the NBA All-Star break, regrouping in Central Florida to begin a three-game Eastern Conference road trip versus the Orlando Magic on February 23.