The Portland Trail Blazers will attempt to defeat the struggling Utah Jazz for the second time in seven days when the teams meet Friday night in Salt Lake City.
The Trail Blazers have won six of their past eight games, while the Jazz are dealing with a season-long five-game losing streak.
Portland’s 124-107 triumph over the Jazz last Saturday included a 51-point performance from All-Star point guard Damian Lillard. That was the final outing of a six-game stretch in which Lillard averaged 48.8 points.
He has been a mere mortal in the club’s last two games, scoring 21 points in a loss against the Denver Nuggets and 26 in Thursday’s 125-117 home win over the San Antonio Spurs. Lillard has tallied at least 20 in 17 consecutive games.
But Lillard, who also had 10 assists on Thursday, wasn’t Portland’s most important cog in the win over the Spurs.
Backup shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. matched his career best of six 3-pointers — he missed just one — while scoring 18 points.
Trent made all four of his 3-point attempts in the fourth quarter as the Trail Blazers went 9 of 10 from long range in the stanza.
“My teammates got me going,” Trent said in a postgame television interview on NBC Sports Northwest. “I got open looks. My job is to knock them down and help this team win to the best of my ability.”
Both Lillard and forward Carmelo Anthony passed up open shots in the fourth quarter to get the ball to Trent, who had the hot hand.
“It’s unbelievable. Your teammates trust you when those type of players, those vets, trust you,” Trent said. “That’s a great thing. It’s great to see it paying off.”
Lillard said he has seen Trent’s confidence blossoming and was ready to feed the ball to the 21-year-old.
“He’s been consistent — how he’s competing on the defensive end, how he’s finding his spots to be effective and making shots,” Lillard told reporters. “He’s somebody that has to be accounted for, especially on a night like tonight. He came up big for us.”
Utah is searching for answers on how to end its porous stretch.
Even its trusty defense has experienced issues as the club has allowed 124 or more points on three occasions during the five-game skid.
The Jazz let a 15-point, third-quarter advantage get away during Wednesday’s 98-95 home loss to Denver. The bleak result rated as an even bigger disappointment due to the fact that the Nuggets had just seven available players.
“I feel like we don’t have the mentality of a very good team,” All-Star center Rudy Gobert said of the recent slide. “When you have a team that’s on a back-to-back and you’re up 15, that’s when your focus has got to be at the highest level. That’s when you’ve got to give the last punch. They’re probably going to give up if you’re up 20 to 25. Instead we just choose to get comfortable.”
Utah coach Quin Snyder attempted to put on a brave face, but he acknowledged that there is no easy fix.
“We haven’t played well, we’ve played sporadically and we’re not as good so we have to find that again,” Snyder said. “There’s no easy answers. When you have adversity on the scoreboard and in the form of losses, that’s your look in the mirror.”
All-Star shooting guard Donovan Mitchell has made just 20 of 57 shots (35.1 percent) during the past three games, including a dreadful game against Denver on Jan. 30 when he matched his season low of four points on 1-of-12 shooting.
Gobert had troubles with Portland big man Hassan Whiteside on Saturday as the latter had 17 points, 21 rebounds and three blocked shots.
Whiteside matched his season best of 23 boards in the win over the Spurs while also having 17 points and four blocked shots.
–Field Level Media