Entering December, it seemed unlikely the Portland Trail Blazers would be able to catch the Utah Jazz in the Northwest Division this season. Two weeks later, that doesn't seem nearly as far-fetched.
The free-falling Jazz look to avoid losing six in a row for the first time in three seasons when they visit the surging Trail Blazers on Friday night.
Utah (13-10) has matched its longest skid since April 3-10 to drop out of first place in the Northwest, and is in danger of losing six in a row for the first time since a nine-game losing streak from March 4-19, 2005.
"We've got to get this turned around, and once we do that, the sky's the limit for us," Utah forward Paul Millsap said.
The Jazz were 12-5 and in first place in the Northwest after November. They were 6 1/2 games ahead of Portland, which was 5-11 at the time.
The Blazers (10-12), though, have won five in a row to pull within 2 1/2 games of the Jazz. They haven't won six straight since an eight-game run from Dec. 14-30, 2002.
Portland has also won three straight at home, where it is 8-3 for the season. The Blazers extended their streak by holding high-scoring Golden State to 40.2 percent shooting in a 105-95 home win Wednesday night.
"You come in here and you want to win, you're going to have to take it from us," guard Jarrett Jack said. "We're not giving anything away."
Portland seems to be rounding into form, averaging 107.4 points while shooting 50.4 percent from the field during its streak.
"I really think the whole team is getting a feel of what we want to do," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said.
Portland has been able to continue its strong play despite missing LaMarcus Aldridge the past two games. Aldridge, who leads the Blazers with 18.7 points and 7.7 rebounds a contest, has been sidelined by plantar fasciitis, a painful foot condition. The Blazers expect to have Aldridge back in a week.
The first game Aldridge missed was Portland's 97-89 win at Utah on Tuesday night in the teams' first matchup of the season. Travis Outlaw had 11 points and five rebounds off the bench to help offset the loss of Aldridge in that game, and has given the team a lift since returning to form after early season conditioning problems.
Outlaw, who began the Blazers' run by making a game-winning shot against Memphis on Dec. 3, led the team with 22 points against the Warriors. The fifth-year forward has become Portland's top reserve, averaging 18.5 points and 7.1 rebounds in his last six games.
Utah, meanwhile, got just seven points from its bench in a 103-98 loss to Phoenix on Wednesday night.
Jazz center Mehmet Okur missed the game with a shoulder injury, and his status for Friday's game is uncertain. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Millsap.
With Utah in need of a big body, it recalled center Kyrylo Fesenko from the Utah Flash of the NBA Development League on Thursday. The 20-year-old native of Ukraine has appeared in one game for the Jazz, finishing with six points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes of a 120-96 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 30.
Portland guard Brandon Roy averaged 28.0 points as the Blazers went 2-0 at home against the Jazz last season. Utah has lost five of its last seven visits to Portland.
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