Wallace, Batum pace Trail Blazers
Gerald Wallace is getting more comfortable in his role with the Portland Blazers.
After more than six years in Charlotte, Wallace further established himself as one of the Blazers' key players, scoring 29 points in a 98-87 win over the Utah Jazz on Thursday night.
''The guys want me to shoot. The coaches want me to shoot,'' Wallace said after scoring 20 points in the second half as the Blazers wore down the injury-hampered Jazz, who had only nine healthy players.
''It's hard coming into a new system. You don't know your role as you try to find your routine. I didn't want to step on any toes, but the guys said to just relax and play and have fun,'' Wallace said.
The veteran forward was repeatedly open in the same spots on the court.
''Gerald was big for us. Gerald knows his role and he knows where his shots are going to come from and he's ready to knock them down,'' LaMarcus Aldridge said.
Nicolas Batum added 21 points and the win moved Portland (46-33) into sole possession of the sixth spot in the Western Conference. The Blazers are a half game ahead of New Orleans.
''We have a lot of people who can put the ball in the basket and you can't hide any defenders on us. We have five scorers on the court almost all the time,'' said Wesley Matthews, who had 18 points.
The loss assured Utah (37-42) of its second losing season in 28 years. The Jazz were 26-56 in 2004-05, the only other time they finished below .500 since 1982-83.
Devin Harris, who returned after missing five games with a strained hamstring, tied a career best with five 3-pointers and led the Jazz with 26 points, but he also committed seven turnovers.
''It felt good. I obviously got off to a good start,'' Harris said. ''But we gave up too many layups off of turnovers, mine especially.''
Each time the Jazz looked to make a run in the second half, they made costly mistakes. Then on three consecutive plays in the fourth quarter, the Jazz were stagnant until forcing a jumper to beat the shot clock and each missed badly.
''When you are struggling, everyone is concerned with their points,'' Utah coach Ty Corbin said. ''If you're not making points, there are other things you can do to help.''
Paul Millsap's jumper brought the Jazz within four, but then the Blazers surged past the Jazz for a 79-64 lead on Wallace's free throws with five seconds left in the third quarter.
Millsap scored 19 points and Al Jefferson and Gordon Hayward each had 10, but the Jazz dropped their ninth game in the past 10.
Hayward had the best game of his rookie season Tuesday when he scored a career-high 22 points and led the Jazz to their first road win over a Lakers team with Kobe Bryant on the court in more than a decade. But Hayward was a non-factor against the Blazers.
''We'd try and run something, and they didn't let us,'' Hayward said.
Meanwhile Wallace, who came to Portland in a midseason trade, stayed on a roll. He has scored in double figures in nine consecutive games and got 40 against Oklahoma City on March 27.
''I just play with the flow, especially with this team. It's a lot easier. In Charlotte, I had to be the spark. I had to be the one getting us going offensively,'' Wallace said.
Brandon Roy added 11 points for Portland.
Matthews said before the game that the Blazers need to ''hit the postseason with a head of steam'' and the Blazers led start to finish against the Jazz to get them in the right direction.
''We're getting better and we're finding a rhythm as we head to the postseason,'' Aldridge said.
Notes: Marcus Camby (neck) did not travel with the team, while the Jazz missed Raja Bell (foot) and Andrei Kirilenko (knee). ... Millsap got a technical foul with 2:54 left in the game. ... Andre Miller shot just 1 of 9, but had 12 assists.