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Hayward, Jazz suprise Blazers

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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).

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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