SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Damian Lillard knew he would need to carry more of the offense after an offseason of drastic changes for the Portland Trail Blazers, who lost four starters. The fourth-year guard hasn’t disappointed.
Lillard had 35 points and C.J. McCollum added 27 as the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Utah Jazz 108-92 on Wednesday night.
”It is a responsibility, when things aren’t going well, when things are going well, I just have to be able to manage that and keep the team calm,” Lillard said. ”When it is time to make something happen I got to be willing to accept that challenge. So far I’ve been able to do that.”
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Lillard shot 14 for 27 for his second consecutive 30-plus-point game. Al-Farouq Aminu finished with 13 points and Mason Plumlee added 12 and 16 rebounds for Portland.
The Jazz sent a multitude of defensive looks at Lillard and McCollum – unsuccessfully.
”We let some guys get what they wanted and we got hurt for it,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. ”We’ll watch the film and I know it’s not going to be pretty. … There’s games like this. I don’t want to over-dramatize it.
”For me to go in and throw stuff and scream and yell, that might have a little bit of an impact, but over the course of a season that’s not going to get us where we need to go. Our guys need to take ownership and I’m right there with them.”
Gordon Hayward scored a season-high 19 for the Jazz while Trey Burke chipped in 17 off the bench. Rudy Gobert finished with eight points, nine rebounds and four blocks.
The Jazz began the night as the No. 1 defensive team in the NBA, but they certainly didn’t look like it against Portland. The Jazz gave up 30 second-quarter points, their most in a single period this season. The offense wasn’t much better, shooting 37.5 from the field.
TIP-INS: Derrick Favors missed Tuesday’s practice and Wednesday’s shootaround with flu-like symptoms. He started and scored six points in a season-low 24 minutes. … Jazz PG Raul Neto began with a league-high 80 percent on 3-pointers. He was 2 for 5 from behind the arc Wednesday. … The Jazz were 21 for 33 from the free-throw line. … The Blazers shot a season-high 53.2 percent from the field. They were 17 for 37, not including Lillard and McCollum. ”He has put in a lot of hard work,” coach Terry Stotts said of McCollum. … Center Meyers Leonard left the game in the first quarter with a right ankle sprain and did not return.
EXPANDING ROLE: With the offseason departure of four starters, including LaMarcus Aldridge, Lillard has seen his role expand this season. The standout at Weber State in Ogden, Utah, entered the night averaging 25.5 points (No. 5 in the NBA) and 8.0 assists (No. 3). ”He’s our best player and he’s taken the leadership role,” Stotts said. ”That’s … something he’s been prepared for and he’s ready for it after three years. He’s been kind of groomed. He’s a natural leader. He’s sets a great example for his teammates. He has an unquestioned work ethic. When you have that, it’s easier to lead.”
PROGRESS: The Jazz were No. 23 in the league in scoring (94.3 points) after the season-opening Eastern Conference swing that included the Pistons, 76ers and Pacers. Snyder said he’s realistic with where the team is at this point of the season. ”We’re trying to integrate Alec and Rodney into a more substantial role,” Snyder said. ”Trey, in his case, playing very well for us coming off the bench and providing that spark. There’s a lot of things that go into it. As the season progresses … we’ll begin to pick up continuity”