Trail Blazers look to avenge loss to Jazz
SALT LAKE CITY — On the road for the holidays, at least the Portland Trail Blazers get the Christmas Day gift of being able to avenge their only defeat in their last five games.
Do not expect the Jazz to be cordial hosts on Tuesday, not after they followed their impressive 120-90 victory at Portland on Friday with a 107-106 home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday.
If there was a positive in the Jazz’s defeat on Saturday it was that Donovan Mitchell appeared to emerge somewhat from a recent shooting slump, going 7-for-17 from the field with 20 points. It was far better than the combined 6-for-36 showing he contributed in consecutive games against the Golden State Warriors and Trail Blazers.
But the Jazz at least won those games against Golden State and Portland. Sure to get Mitchell’s attention more than his 20-point night Saturday was his missed free throw with 1.5 seconds remaining that prevented Utah from tying the game.
The Jazz did have 30 assists as a team on Saturday, a continuation of a theme that started Friday when Utah had 35 assists against the Trail Blazers.
“We’re moving the ball, we’re playing better as a team and that’s our identity,” said Utah guard Ricky Rubio, who controlled the tempo for the Jazz on Saturday after scoring a team-high 24 points Friday. “I think we kind of lost (that identity) in the beginning of the season but we’ve picked it up and we’re playing better.”
The Jazz are just 5-6 in December, but do have victories over the Spurs, Rockets, Heat, Warriors and Trail Blazers. In the 12 games since long-range shooter Kyle Korver was reacquired in a trade, Utah’s offense is up nearly three points per game from the team’s season average.
Portland has gone 4-1 since Dec. 14, a run that started with the team’s best victory of the season, a 128-122 triumph at home over the Toronto Raptors, the team with the best record in the NBA.
It was something of an awakening after the Trail Blazers had lost five of their previous seven games.
Damian Lillard has led the Trail Blazers in scoring the past five games, with an average of 27.8 points in those contests. The only game in the stretch where he was held under 20 points was Friday’s home loss against the Jazz.
After what was the worst home loss in almost 14 years, Portland seemed to move past that defeat Sunday when they knocked off the Dallas Mavericks 121-118 in overtime. Lillard scored 33 points with seven assists, while Jusuf Nurkic had 10 points and 12 rebounds, giving him his 16th double-double of the season.
Utah might have a disappointing 6-7 home record, but the Jazz has won four of its last five in its own building, which means revenge won’t come easy for the Trail Blazers.
The Trail Blazers seem keen on how to make the rematch look a whole lot different.
“I think the effort was there (Friday), we played hard, we just had too many miscommunications … letdowns mentally on the defensive end,” Lillard said about the loss to the Jazz. “We started the game off pretty strong and then we let them get going. It was us, some of the mistakes we made, but it was also them. You have to give them credit.”
Both teams are expected to be at full strength for the Christmas Day clash.