SALT LAKE CITY — The Portland Trail Blazers started their final road trip of the regular season with a loss. Unfortunately, they ended the trip the same way, falling 106-87 to the Utah Jazz on the second night of a back-to-back in front of a sellout crowd of 19,911 Tuesday night at Vivant Smart Home Arena.
“That was a struggle most of the night from the start,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “They outplayed us, we looked tired. We didn’t have what it takes to beat them tonight.”
The loss drops the Trail Blazers to 38-40 overall and 16-25 on the road this season. Portland now holds just a half game lead on the Denver Nuggets, a team that defeated the New Orleans Pelicans Tuesday night, for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Trail Blazers and Nuggets are now the only remaining teams fighting for the eighth-place in the West, as the Pelicans were eliminated from playoff contention with their loss to Denver.
“We would of like to of kept the gap as wide as we had it — we had it up to two and a half games — but it is a race for a spot,” said Damian Lillard. “(The Nuggets) are going to compete really hard. Our schedule, we knew it wasn’t full of teams that were just going to come and lay down. Fortunately for us we’ve played good basketball and we are going back to our home floor with a half-game lead.”
Tuesday night’s game did not start out well for the Trail Blazers, a team that lost 110-109 the night before to the Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis. Portland missed their first seven shots and were down 11-0 before an Al-Farouq Aminu floater finally got the Trail Blazers on the board with 7:24 to play in the first quarter.
But after a rough start, Portland managed to find their footing before things got too out of control, cutting Utah’s lead to 24-17 by the start of the second quarter. The Trail Blazers would continue to make incremental progress before the half, and even briefly took a lead after a personal 6-0 for CJ McCollum put Portland up 31-30 with 6:58 to play in the second quarter.
Utah would eventually take a 47-41 lead into the half, though it looked as though the stage was set for a close second half. That would not be the case.
The Jazz would go up by as many as 11 in the third, as Portland’s offense sputtered for everyone except for McCollum, who scored 11 of the Trail Blazers 23 points in the quarter. Portland would get no closer in the fourth, and would go down by as many as 20 before Stotts waived the white flag with just under four minutes to play.
Portland was led by McCollum who finished with 25 points on 11-of-22 shooting, six rebounds and an assist in 34 minutes. Damian Lillard finished with 16 points, but shot just 5-of-20 from the field.
“Tough night, I didn’t shoot the ball, didn’t impact the game as much as I would have liked,” said Lillard. “(Utah) got a really good team, they defend well, a great rim protector, they got good size. They’re in a string out there on the defense end and they made it tough for us. You’ve got to give them credit, but I also felt like I had some looks that I should have made, that I usually do make, that I didn’t. Just didn’t play a good enough game to beat them on a back-to-back on their home floor.”
Aminu, who started in Tuesday’s game in place of Meyers Leonard, added 11 points, four rebounds, two steals, a block and an assist in 31 minutes. Leonard finished with nine points in 24 minutes.
The Jazz were led by Gordon Hayward, who went 12-of-20 from the field for 30 points in 35 minutes. Rudy Gobert put up a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds to go with three blocks and three assists in 35 minutes.
With their road schedule now completed, the Trail Blazers return to Portland to play the out the final four games of their regular season, a home stretch that starts Thursday night versus the Timberwolves at the Moda Center.
“We’ve got to worry about Minnesota,” said Stotts. “We’ve got to get wins. That’s what a playoff race is about. We knew these two games would be tough, coming off of last night was a disappointing loss, but it’s tough to win on the road, especially on a back-to-back. Now we come home for four and we’ve got to do whatever it takes to win each one.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 on TNT.