PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — After struggling early amid high expectations, the Utah Jazz feel like they’re finding their rhythm once again.
Ricky Rubio had 24 points and eight assists to lead the Utah Jazz to a 120-90 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night. Kyle Korver scored 18 points and Jae Crowder added 16 as the two combined to shoot 7 for 14 on 3-pointers.
The win for Utah follows a home win over the defending two-time champion Golden State Warriors and takes them into a stretch where they’ll play 12 of their next 17 games at home.
“We’ve been playing better for the last couple weeks or so and I think the results are coming,” Rubio said. “We feel pretty confident where we are at.”
According to guard Donovan Mitchell, the key for Utah has been the defense.
“Defensively, we were locked in,” Mitchell said. “We’ve been locked in on the defensive end the last two games and we’ve got to keep it up.”
Damian Lillard had 19 points to lead the Trail Blazers, who suffered their worst home loss since 2004. The teams will face off again soon when the Blazers visit the Jazz on Christmas Day.
“They played a good game, we’ll see them in a few days,” Lillard said.
The Jazz took control of the game in the first quarter thanks to reserves Korver and Crowder. The two helped the Jazz take a 2-point lead early in the second and the advantage.
That’s also where Portland coach Terry Stotts saw the game slip away.
“The end of the first quarter I thought really changed the tone of the game,” Stotts said. “We gave up 15 points in a 3-minute stretch on some mental lapses that shouldn’t have happened.”
The Jazz took a 12-point early in the second quarter, led by 14 after three before pulling away in the fourth.
Crowder and Korver seemingly alternated 3-point baskets while back-up point guard Dante Exum racked up assist after assist setting them up. Exum finished with seven assists and six points.
Things only got better for the Jazz from there as their strong 3-point shooting did not stop. Utah finished 16 for 31 (51 percent) on 3s. Everybody from the bench players, to unheralded shooters like Rubio, got open 3s to go.
Unfortunately for Portland, that has been a theme for them this season as they rank 29th out of 30 teams in opponent’s 3-point percentage.
“We’ve given up a high percentage of 3s and they shot them well. It’s the NBA,” Lillard said. “I don’t know how much you can say it’s luck. It’s the NBA. You give up those looks, guys are going to make them. Teams have been hurting us with it.”
While things were going well for the Jazz, the Blazers were struggling. They shot 41 percent from the field and 31 percent from long-distance. Their turnovers were also costly as the Jazz scored 21 points off Portland turnovers.
One sequence in particular seemed to encapsulate the night for Portland as Lillard missed a dunk and then upon getting the rebound, threw the ball to teammate Jusuf Nurkic, who was standing near the bench but not in the game.
Jazz: Donovan Mitchell hasn’t had a very efficient shooting season, and he’s shot even worse as of late. For the past seven games, he’s been shooting 35 percent from the field, including 29 percent on 3s. Don’t expect him to stop shooting. As coach Quin Snyder said before the game, he’s being selfish if he doesn’t shoot.
“He’s got to play, he’s got to attack,” Snyder said. “He’s our guy. You start questioning that, he’s fine. We won a game and he didn’t shoot great. He’s not going to shoot great at times but there’s been plenty of games when he’s had a rough night. He’s capable of doing that for him, that’s what we want. If he doesn’t shoot, that’s Donovan being selfish.”
Mitchell was 1 for 10 from the field against the Blazers.
Trail Blazers: After a brief swoon, the Trail Blazers entered the game having won three straight. A big key to the success was the play of the reserves. That is something Stotts believes is an indicator.
“That group has done a good job of Evan (Turner), Seth (Curry), Nik (Stauskas), Zach (Collins), Meyers (Leonard), have all done a good job of keeping things going,” he said. “We had a rough stretch and our record kind of reflected that but two out of the last three games.”
On Friday, however, they were significantly outplayed by the Jazz reserves.
Jazz: Host Oklahoma City on Saturday.
Trail Blazers: Host Dallas on Sunday.
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