Blazers cough up lead, fall to Jazz
Everything looked peachy for the Trail Blazers at the 7:42 mark of the fourth quarter Friday night at the Rose Garden.
Portland led Utah 89-80 and was in prime position to pick up some valuable ground on the Jazz in its uphill climb to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Then the bottom fell out. Utah went on a 21-3 tear and closed the game by outscoring the Blazers 25-6 in a 105-95 victory that made any remaining playoff talk from the Portland side ring hollow.
Utah (37-36) moved into a tie with the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Dallas (35-37) looms a game and a half back, with Portland (33-39) 3 1/2 games behind with only 10 games to play.
We dug our grave a little deeper, said Portland rookie Meyers Leonard, who earned his third start of the season in the absence of injured LaMarcus Aldridge. But we have to continue fighting.
This loss stings, but well bounce back, said teammate JJ Hickson, who notched his 39th double-double with 17 points and 14 rebounds. Were still playing to win. Were still playing to make the playoffs. I know our window is smaller at this point, but as long as we got a chance, well keep playing hard.
Coach Terry Stotts liked that his Blazers worked harder than in their embarrassing 111-93 home loss to Brooklyn Wednesday night.
I wanted us to come out with more aggressiveness and better focus, and we did that, Stotts said.
But the Blazers sabotaged a solid performance for three-plus quarters with a monumental collapse keyed by six fourth-quarter turnovers including five in eight possessions down the stretch.
We played a good game until the turnovers caught up with us in the fourth quarter, Stotts said. We shot ourselves in the foot with turnovers.
Portland was without All-Star forward Aldridge, who tweaked his ankle against Brooklyn and was unable to go.
Having L.A. on the court is always going to be a bonus, but we had the personnel to win that game, said Leonard, who scored 12 points with three rebounds in 32 minutes.
Mo Williams didnt help the Blazers cause, scoring 26 of his game-high 28 points in the second half after a 1-for-5 shooting performance before intermission.
Williams was injured and didnt play in the first two meetings between the teams, in which Portland rookie Damian Lillard outscored Utahs starting point guard, Jamaal Tinsley, by a collective 49-6.
Lillard had another strong offensive game against the Jazz with 24 points and seven assists, but Williams who also had five rebounds and five assists more than held his own.
Utah led 80-77 early in the fourth quarter when the Blazers went on a 12-0 run to seize an 89-80 advantage with 7:42 to play. Thats when the Jazz kicked into gear and the Blazers blew out a couple of tires.
We were in a pretty good flow until we turned the ball over on five of eight possessions, and they took advantage of it, Lillard said. They chopped our lead down real quick.
Portland, which embarks on a two-game trip to Golden State Saturday and Utah Monday, could have closed to within 1 1/2 games of the Jazz in the standings.
We could have gained ground on them going into Mondays game, Lillard said. We could have given ourselves a better chance (for the playoffs). Losing that type of game on our home floor hurts.
Time is growing short for the Blazers who have gone 8-16 since getting to 25-23 on Feb. 4 to make a move for the postseason.
Our playoff odds are slim to none right now, Stotts said. But that doesnt get us away from the goals we set at the beginning of the season to compete and get better.
We have 10 games to go. Its important we keep playing the right way and for the right reasons.
NOTES: Aldridge will not accompany the Blazers on the upcoming road trip. ... Hickson, who made 8 of 11 shots from the field, is seventh in the NBA in field-goal percentage at .567 and fifth in double-doubles. ... Paul Milsap had 25 points and 10 rebounds and Al Jefferson contributed 22 points and eight boards for the winners, though the latter didnt score in the games final 19 minutes. ... Utah scored 63 points in the second half 32 in the third quarter, 31 in the fourth after falling behind 52-42 at halftime. ... Portland has made 599 3-pointers this season, breaking the franchise record of 596 set in 2008-09.