Jazz-Trail Blazers Preview
The Utah Jazz finally won back-to-back games this week despite losing a key bench contributor in the process.
Now they want to figure out how to get the job done outside Salt Lake City.
The playoff-hopeful Jazz will try to end their longest road losing streak in 31 seasons Friday night and drop the Portland Trail Blazers further back in the Western Conference race.
Having lost four straight and 12 of 15 heading into a pair of home games, Utah defeated Philadelphia 107-91 on Monday and Phoenix 103-88 on Wednesday.
The Jazz (36-36) had not posted consecutive victories since a 3-0 stretch encompassing the All-Star break Feb. 12-19. They were seventh in the West at that point but have since dropped to ninth, chasing the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Wednesday's win, though, came at a price with Enes Kanter suffering a dislocated left shoulder. The second-year center, averaging 7.2 points and 4.3 rebounds, vowed he would return this season, but that's questionable.
"To be honest, the game was for the playoffs, but when (Kanter) went down I had to step up even more," said Al Jefferson, who matched Gordon Hayward for the team lead with 25 points. "We're going to fight for him to the end, make his injury worth something."
The Jazz open a stretch of six of seven in Salt Lake City on Saturday against Brooklyn, but first they'll try to notch their first road win since the All-Star break.
Utah's nine-game losing streak as the visitor is its longest since a 17-game slide Nov. 21, 1981-Feb. 6, 1982. However, the Jazz were competitive in last week's three-game trip through Texas, losing by an average of 6.4 points.
The Jazz had won five of six in Portland - and five in a row in this series - prior to a 105-99 loss Feb. 2 in the most recent meeting. Utah defeated the Trail Blazers 86-77 the previous night in Salt Lake City.
Portland (33-38) visits the Jazz again Monday following Saturday's game at Golden State, but first must try to recover from two blowout losses. The Blazers, who have lost 15 of 23 to fall to 11th in the West, fell 103-83 at Oklahoma City on Sunday and 111-93 to the Nets on Wednesday - their most lopsided home loss since Dec. 8.
"It was embarrassing," said Damian Lillard, who had five turnovers and shot 1 for 7 inside the 3-point arc. "I don't know any other way to say it."
Lillard's 49 points and 13 assists led Portland in the first two meetings with Utah, though he didn't have to face fellow point guard Mo Williams, who was recovering from thumb surgery.
Hayward (sprained shoulder) also was sidelined for both of those games. The third-year swingman is averaging a team-best 17.0 points with 16 3-pointers in 29 attempts since coach Tyrone Corbin re-inserted him into the starting lineup seven games ago.
LaMarcus Aldridge led the Blazers with 24 points Wednesday, but it's uncertain if there will be any lingering effects from a sprained right ankle he suffered in the first half. The All-Star forward had double-doubles in the two matchups versus Utah and has seven in his past nine games overall, averaging 24.0 points and 10.9 rebounds.