SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz fans were excited to see their team’s group of young players, expected to be a big part of the franchise’s future, start together for the first time this season Friday night.
While Utah’s fresh-faced group of Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, all between 21-24, had good outings, it was a couple of familiar-looking young guys from Portland who spoiled their upset bid.
All-Star point guard Damian Lillard scored 14 points in the fourth quarter as the Trail Blazers busted open a tight game to defeat the Jazz 111-99 at EnergySolutions Arena.
Guard Wesley Matthews, a former Jazz player, led Portland with 21 points and Lillard, the ex-Weber State star, finished with 16 points and six assists. All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge contributed 18 points and 14 rebounds.
“It was good to get a win,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We were disappointed with our defense in the first quarter, but I thought we really turned it around in the second and third quarter, defensively. That’s how we need to continue to play.”
Portland, which previously clinched its first playoff spot since 2011, improved to 52-28 and moved within a half-game of Houston (52-27) for the fifth spot in the Western Conference playoff seedings.
“I don’t think we anticipated it being easy. They put up a fight like we knew they were going to,” Matthews said. “This has always been a tough place to play. I’m still made I missed a lot of easy ones, but I’m happy with the win and happy with the Houston loss, too.”
Power forward Derrick Favors topped the Jazz with 21 points, while center Enes Kanter (15 points, 14 rebounds) and point guard Trey Burke (14 points, 11 assists) added double-doubles in the loss.
Utah fell to 24-55 with its third consecutive loss and 19th defeat in 22 games. The Jazz are now tied with Boston for the fourth-worst record in the NBA.
The Jazz got off to a good start, taking a 31-23 lead after the first quarter. The most significant aspect of the beginning of the game for Utah was the starting lineup, which included young players Burke, Burks, Hayward, Favors and Kanter for the first time this season.
“Marvin (Williams) is out, so we wanted to try and look at a couple different things,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “I thought Alec did a good job of everything and picked the pace up some for us. … I thought the guys came out focused and executed the game plan for the most part.”
Those five, despite being considered as foundation players for the Jazz’s future, hadn’t started together and had only played at the same time for 74 minutes all season before Friday.
“It provides experience. You can’t teach that,” Hayward said. “Playing together, when you get that experience, you get chemistry. You can’t teach that.”
Portland outscored Utah 30-20 in the second quarter, and the game was tight until the final 10 minutes.
Forward Richard Jefferson, who didn’t start for the first time in 79 games this season, gave the Jazz a 79-77 lead by hitting an 18-foot jumper with 11:07 remaining.
It was all Portland after that.
Backup forward Dorell Wright sparked a 9-2 run with a 3-pointer to put the Blazers ahead for good at 10:15. Lillard then sandwiched long bombs around center Rudy Gobert’s layup to give Portland an 86-81 lead.
Lillard then scored eight of the Blazers’ next 12 points as the visitors went on a 12-4 spurt to take control of the contest. He hit four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
“He’s a real-life microwave,” Matthews said of Lillard.
The Jazz were punished while failing to score for three minutes and 15 seconds in the fourth quarter during a stretch when the team had two turnovers and two missed shots.
Forward Nicolas Batum had a strong all-around game for Portland, scoring 15 points with seven assists and seven rebounds.
That helped the Blazers beat the Jazz for the fourth time this season, marking the first time Portland has ever swept Utah.
The Jazz travel to Denver for a back-to-back against the Nuggets on Saturday, while Portland returns home for an important showdown with Golden State on Sunday.
Hayward finished with 14 points, six assists and five rebounds, while Burks added 16 points, six rebounds and five assists in a career-high 42 minutes.
NOTES: Trail Blazers F Nicolas Batum has traveled farther than any other player during games this season. According to the NBA’s SportVu stats, Batum has logged 209.4 miles on the court coming into Friday’s game. G Damian Lillard is ranked third with 201.0 miles. … Portland features four players who played basketball for Utah organizations in recent years. G Wesley Matthews, G Mo Williams and G Earl Watson each played for the Jazz, and G Damian Lillard was a collegiate star at Weber State in nearby Ogden. … F Marvin Williams, one of the Jazz’s key rotation players, did not play because of a left knee bone bruise. He didn’t travel with the team for Saturday’s game in Denver. C Joel Freeland (right knee sprain) sat out for Portland. … The Trail Blazers, 13-3 in Northwest Division play, are one of only four NBA teams with at least 12 division wins. Indiana, Miami and San Antonio are the others.
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