SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Portland took another big step toward securing a top-six seed in the upcoming NBA Playoffs.
Damian Lillard scored 30 points and CJ McCollum added 26 to lead the Trail Blazers to a 105-98 victory over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night.
Carmelo Anthony added 18 points for Portland. Jusuf Nurkic chipped in 11 points and 15 rebounds. The Trail Blazers won their fifth straight game and earned their ninth victory in their last 10. Portland moved into a tie with Dallas for the fifth position in the Western Conference.
Jordan Clarkson scored 29 points to lead Utah. Rudy Gobert added 15 points and 20 rebounds for the Jazz, who lost their second straight game. Utah now holds a 1 1/2 game lead over Phoenix for the best record in the NBA.
Consistently playing tough defense and efficient offense have helped the Trail Blazers surge up the standings over the final few weeks of the regular season.
“We’ve been defending. We’ve been sharing the ball,” Lillard said. “We’ve been able to sustain that level of focus and that level of play for longer periods of time. That’s why we’re winning games.”
It made all the difference in the second half against the Jazz.
Utah endured a pair of eight-minute spells starting each of the final two quarters where it scored a single basket. The Jazz missed 11 of 12 shots over an eight-minute stretch to start the third quarter. Then, they missed eight of nine shots in the first eight minutes of the fourth.
“They made everything harder for us,” center Rudy Gobert said. They played very physical. It was harder for us to do what we wanted to do. Despite all that, we got a lot of open shots. On another day, we probably make those shots and it’s a different game.”
Cold shooting from the Jazz opened the door for Portland to take control.
The Trail Blazers quickly capitalized on the first dry spell, building an 84-71 lead late in the quarter following back-to-back baskets from Anthony and Lillard.
The Jazz drew within 90-81 on a second-chance dunk from Gobert. But that was their lone basket through the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter. Portland pushed the lead back to double digits for good amid the drought and extended its advantage to 97-81 on a layup from Lillard with 4:19 left.
Utah struggled offensively, in part, because the Trail Blazers denied transition baskets. The Jazz scored just two fast-break points over 48 minutes.
“They were working hard,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “Maybe the biggest thing for us is trying to stay out of the half-court game. We fouled and that slowed the game down because we’re not able to push the ball, whether it’s make or miss, and that’s what we’ve done well.”
Utah charged out of the gates in the first quarter. The Jazz made their first seven shots and scored on six straight possessions to carve out a 16-4 lead. Joe Ingles and Rudy Gobert each scored back-to-back baskets to fuel the hot start.
Portland weathered the surge and chipped away at Utah’s lead until overtaking the Jazz in the second quarter. The Trail Blazers hit nine of their first 12 shots to open the quarter and scored on four straight possessions, culminating in a 3-pointer from Norman Powell, to take a 49-46 lead.
“We got down early on the road and kept our composure,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We kept competing, found a way to make it close in the first quarter.”
McCollum played the largest part in sparking Portland’s offense during the second quarter. He made six baskets and totaled 13 points in the quarter.
McCollum beat the halftime buzzer with a quick jumper after reeling in a long pass from Nurkic to give the Trail Blazers a 59-56 lead. The scoring play came on the heels off a tipped-in layup by Gobert with 1.1 seconds left in the half. It ended up offering a huge confidence boost to Portland going into the locker room.
’We could have been going into the locker room on a play that was very deflating,” Stotts said. “Instead, we went in on a high with a 3-point lead.”
“It’s what our identity has always been. We put our hard hats on. Blue-collar team.” – Lillard on the Trail Blazers finishing the regular season strong.
Trail Blazers: Enes Kanter made a 3-pointer in the first quarter – his first outside basket of the season. Blazers were 0-of-5 from 3-point range before Kanter broke the ice. … Anthony returned to the lineup after missing two games with a sprained right ankle. … Portland committed zero turnovers in the third quarter and finished with just five turnovers overall.
Jazz: Gobert finished with at least 20 rebounds for the sixth time this season. … Udoka Azubuike played in an NBA game for the first time since late January after missing 41 games with a severe right ankle sprain. … Utah outscored Portland 11-0 in second-chance points in the second half.
Trail Blazers visit Phoenix on Thursday.
Jazz visit Oklahoma City on Friday.
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