Lillard, McCollum Return To Form Versus Jazz
SALT LAKE CITY -- The Portland Trail Blazers put together easily their best preseason game of 2019 Wednesday night versus the Jazz in Utah.
The pairing of Hassan Whiteside and Zach Collins were able to exploit mismatches against smaller lineups for much of the game, sophomore Anfernee Simons held his own on both ends of the floor against Utah's Mike Conley and Mario Hezonja provided energy, scoring and playmaking off the bench. For the first time during preseason play, the team displayed many of the new wrinkles and improvements they've been talking about since the start of training camp.
But more than that, Wednesday's game was a reminder of what everyone should already know: The Portland Trail Blazers will go as far as Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum take them. That much was obvious with the backcourt duo combining for 53 points in Portland's 126-118 victory versus Utah in front of a crowd of 17,513 at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
“We really played well offensively," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "The first half was fun to watch. We moved the ball. Dame and CJ were in a really good rhythm."
The Trail Blazers are now 2-2 in preseason play with one game remaining in their exhibition season schedule.
Lillard had mentioned prior to the start of Wednesday's game that he intended to get up shots early and often versus the Jazz, and he lived up to that promise. The 6-3 guard out of Weber State, who still gets loud ovations when he's introduced at Vivint Smart Home Arena, played all 12 minutes of the first quarter, going 5-of-7 from the field and 3-of-4 from three for 15 points.
"It felt good," said Lillard. "Playing in altitude, we knew that was going to be a challenge, so we just wanted to come out and be in attack mode, play it like a real game and challenge ourselves with our conditioning, trying to get into regular season form."
With Lillard on the bench to start the second quarter, McCollum picked up his scoring, going 4-of-5 from the field and 2-of-3 from three for 10 points in seven and a half minutes.
"We knew this would probably be our last preseason game, so we wanted to come out and be sharp," said McCollum. "Get some good conditioning in with the altitude and then go compete. They've got a good team, they got some good guards, I wanted to see where we were at before the season starts."
While both McCollum and Lillard had it going in the first half, so too did Utah's starting backcourt of Conley and Donovan Mitchell. The duo combined for 32 points in the first half. With the opposing guards mostly canceling each other out, the Blazers took a slim 67-65 lead into the halftime intermission.
But in the third quarter, Portland held Mitchell to just one point and Conley to six. All told, the Trail Blazers held the Jazz to just 26 percent shooting from the field and 17 percent shooting from three in the third.
And on the other side of the ball, Portland shot better than 50 percent from both the field and from three in the third, with McCollum putting up 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting. The Trail Blazers would go on to outscore the Jazz by six in the quarter to take a 94-86 lead into the fourth.
From there, the bench took over. Lillard and McCollum were certainly the headliners Wednesday night, but Portland's bench held up their end by outscoring Utah 13-2 in the first three minutes to take a 17-point lead. A McCollum three with 7:32 to play gave the Blazers their largest lead of the night at 112-92, which prompted Utah head coach Quinn Snyder to wave the white flag a few minutes later.
Stotts followed suit, and while Utah's bench cut the lead to five with just over a minute to play, the Blazers were able to hold on despite Gary Trent Jr. being the only player on the floor who is on Portland's regular season roster.
CJ McCollum, despite being under weather Wednesday night, led all scorers with 28 points on 11-of-15 shooting from the field and 5-of-7 shooting from three to go with four assists and two rebounds in 29 minutes.
Damian Lillard went 8-of-13 from the field, 3-of-4 from three and 6-of-6 from the line for 25 points while also tallying five rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal in 29 minutes.
Zach Collins looked arguably as good Wednesday night as he has at any point in his career thus far, going 6-of-6 from the field for 13 to go with five rebounds and two blocks in 23 minutes.
"I thought Zach, in particular, made some really impressive plays at the rim," said Stotts. "I don't know how many blocks he ended up with, but he had two or three really impressive blocks that should the been scores. It really ignited us going the other way.
Hassan Whiteside's minutes were cut short by two injuries, the first being a minor cut on his right hand and the second being an aggravation of the left ankle sprain that has hobbled the 7-1 center for the entirety of the preseason. He finished with fife points, 11 rebounds, a block and a steal in 15 minutes.
Mario Hezonja rounded out Portland's double-digit scorers with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field and 2-of-4 shooting from three, four rebounds, three assists and a steal in 22 minutes.
Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 27 points. Mike Conley went for 25 points, four assists and five rebounds while Rudy Gobert added a double-double of 13 points and 15 rebounds in 24 minutes.
“I love playing with Hassan, especially on defense because we’re both rim protectors and he’s very good at it. Just both of us being at the rim is going to be tough for the other team to score. On defense it’s fun and then offense is great too because he’s such a force in the paint and me being able to play on the perimeter balances it out, so it’s definitely a good duo.” -- Zach Collins
The Portland Trail Blazers wrap up their 2019 preseason with a tilt against the Denver Nuggets, the team they'll face in their regular season opener, in the second night of a back-to-back at the Pepsi Center. After playing roughly their regular season rotation Wednesday versus the Jazz, head coach Terry Stotts is likely to play the reserves extended minutes, while players such as Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will also certain sit out. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.