SALT LAKE CITY — Challenging for a spot in the NBA playoffs is out of the question for the Utah Jazz this season. It might be a realistic goal once again in a short time. The Jazz are rapidly evolving into a dangerous team on both ends of the court.
Portland learned that lesson the hard way. Utah used a combination of stifling defense and hot shooting from the perimeter to run away with a 92-76 victory on Friday night.
Forward Gordon Hayward scored 20 points, guard Trey Burke added 19 points off the bench and forward Derrick Favors added 16 points and nine rebounds to help the Jazz (20-34) snap a five game losing streak in their series with Portland.
Utah shot 10 of 25 (40 percent) from outside and made seven 3-pointers after halftime. The Jazz also did plenty of damage inside. They out-rebounded Portland 48-37 and enjoyed a 36-24 advantage in points in the paint.
“We needed this type of game coming off the break,” Burke said. “We knew Portland is a team capable of getting hot and capable of beating pretty much anyone in the league. Our concentration level coming into the game was critical. It started at shoot-around this morning. We were all locked in and knew what we needed to do to win.”
Guard Damian Lilliard scored 19 points, forward LaMarcus Aldridge added 14 and guard Wesley Matthews chipped in 13 for the Blazers. Portland (36-18) led through much of the first half, but could not hold onto the lead once the Jazz got hot from the perimeter.
It didn’t help that the Blazers went ice cold on offense in the second half. They shot just 4-of-22 (18.2 percent) from outside and were held to 26-of-72 (36.1 percent) shooting from the field.
Portland also struggled to hold onto the ball. The Blazers committed 13 turnovers, which led to 15 points for Utah.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well and that gave them energy,” Lillard said. “They took advantage of us turning the ball over and it didn’t help that we didn’t shoot well in the half court either.”
Momentum shifted to the Jazz after a decisive third quarter performance from Hayward. He scored 10 points in the quarter alone. His final basket, a 3-pointer that came as part of a 22-5 run, put the Jazz ahead for good at 56-53. Burke capped the run a short time later with a pair of jumpers — giving Utah a 63-54 lead with 1:54 left in the third quarter.
Utah finished blowing the game open when it scored 15 unanswered points to open the fourth quarter. The Jazz scored on their first seven possessions of the quarter. Guard Elijah Millsap made a pair of 3-pointers — sandwiched around forward Jeremy Evans’ dunk — to cap the spurt and give Utah an 83-61 lead with 7:54 remaining.
“We were trying to make each other better and you get rewarded for that,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “Obviously, you got to make a shot or two. But that was kind of like what it felt to me on the floor. We just played with a purity. It was nice to see.”
Center Rudy Gobert played a huge role in sparking the run. In his first game as full-time starter since the Jazz traded Enes Kanter, Gobert protected the rim with authority. He blocked five shots and disrupted several others.
The Blazers were at a loss on how to contain him and it lifted the entire Utah defense to a higher level.
“You got to give Utah credit with their defense,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “They were very energetic. They were scrambling. They were closing out hard on our shooters.”
Portland led from start to finish in the first quarter. The Blazers built up a 17-11 lead — following back-to-back baskets from Lillard and Aldridge — after making 6-of-9 to open the game.
Utah trimmed the lead to one a few minutes later, making it 17-16 when Hayward fed Favors for a dunk. The Jazz could not overtake Portland. Center Chris Kaman made a pair of baskets to bookend a Lillard 3-pointer. It helped the Blazers push the lead out to 24-16 less than two minutes later.
Utah finally broke through during the second quarter. The Jazz used a 14-2 run to charge in front of Portland. Guard Rodney Hood hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 26 and Guard Joe Ingles drained another a short time later to put Utah ahead 30-28.
Burke hit a jumper on the next Jazz possession to cap the run and give Utah a 32-28 lead. Matthews made back-to-back baskets less than a minute apart to put the Blazers back in front just before halftime.
“The game felt like we were playing a little bit in mud,” Hayward said. “But we guarded extremely well in the first half. Then, in the second, that’s when our shots falling. We got our legs back and that first wind out of us and we played well.”
NOTES: Portland ranks second among NBA teams in 3-point field goal defense. Heading into Friday’s game, the Blazers were holding opponents to 32.0 percent shooting from the perimeter. … In his last seven games heading into the All-Star break, Jazz F Gordon Hayward posted averages of 23.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists. … Blazers G Wesley Matthews scored at least 20 points in five of his last six games against the Jazz before Friday night. … Utah has tallied seven or more blocked shots in 20 games this season after tallying seven blocks against Portland. The Jazz rank sixth in the league in blocks (5.8 per game).
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.