The Portland Trail Blazers moved to .500 for the preseason season with a 99-92 win against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City. It is the second time the Trail Blazers have defeated the Jazz in as many games.
Portland trailed by as many as 12 midway through the third quarter, but the Trail Blazers, spurred by the rugged post defense of Robin Lopez and the long range shooting of Mo Williams, finished the final 5:50 of the third quarter on a 21-8 run to take a one-point lead into the fourth quarter. Portland would not trail again.
“I was pleased that we stuck with our defense,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Obviously, I thought Robin Lopez had a terrific impact on the second half. I don’t know what his numbers were in the second half but you felt his presence out there. He got a lot of run, rebounds, block shots, finishing around the basket. Offense is slow to catch up but our defense kept us in the game to have a chance to win it.”
Damian Lillard, who received a nice round of applause during pregame introductions from the Weber State fans in the arena, lead the Trail Blazers with 22 points on 7-of-20 shooting to go along with four assists, three steals and two rebounds.. He was also a perfect 10-of-10 from the free throw line, which was especially helpful on a rough shooting night from the field.
“That’s something that I need to do a better job of, getting to the free throw line,” said Lillard. “Shots weren’t falling. I made some shots but, for the most part, I missed a lot of shots, so it was important for me to get to the free throw line and make those free throws.”
Lillard’s perfection from the line was a godsend considering his teammates were a combined 9-of-21 from the charity stripe.
LaMarcus Aldridge (16 points, four rebounds, two assists), Wesley Matthews (11 points, eight rebounds, five assists), Will Barton (10 points, five rebounds) all finished in double figures as did Mo Williams (17 points, three rebounds, three assists), who was playing against the Jazz for the first time since leaving the team to sign as a free agent in Portland in the offseason.
“Mo did what we wanted him to do and that’s one of the reasons we got him,” said Stotts. “He’s a secondary ball handler, a creator, he can make shots, he can make plays for everybody else, he’s got speed. The layup he made at the beginning of the fourth quarter was … not a lot of guys can make that play. He just turns on the jets and gets to the rim. He has composure, he knows the game and I think he and Damian play well together out there.”
Lopez had his first double-double of the preseason with a 13-point, 13-rebound effort and drew praise from everyone in Portland’s locker room for his post defense.
“It was a paint presence on defense that we haven’t have since I’ve been here,” said Lillard of Lopez’s performance. “He did a great job of altering shots just being there. I think him just being there, even when he committed fouls, they knew he was there and they weren’t going to just get layups and easy shots in the paint.”
Wednesday’s victory was the first appearance as a Trail Blazers for Dorell Wright, who started in place of Nicolas Batum (concussion) and finished with three points, four steals and two assists in 14 minutes.
“Shoot, I’ve been working on my game and trying to get better this whole summertime, so finally to be out there for the first time during the season is great,” said Wright, who has been nursing a dislocated right middle finger for much of training camp. “I felt comfortable, I was a little better with my wind than I expected, especially starting the first game being here in Utah with this thin air. So I think I did a good job as far as being on top of the schemes and knowing the plays and being in the right spots.”
Jazz center Enes Kanter scored 16 points in the first quarter and finished the game with 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting. Gordon Hayward scored 10 of his 20 points at the free throw line to go with six assists, three rebounds, a block and a steal in 34 minutes. Derek Favors (10 points, 17 rebounds) was the only other Jazz player in double figures.
Next up, the Trail Blazers travel to Los Angeles where they’ll be hosted by the Clippers Friday night at the STAPLES Center. Tipoff is schedule for 7:30 PM on NBA TV and 620 AM.