Live from the Moda Center as the Portland Trail Blazers host the Utah Jazz.
Robin Lopez is back in your starting lineup tonight for the first time since breaking his hand in more places than Damian Lillard's heart after the latter found out he didn't make All-Stars. (IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT YOU SAY NOW, ADAM SILVER, YOUR ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDEST.)
Lopez's face was freshly shorn and his right paw was wrapped in black tape pregame as the affable 7-footer lobbed up a few free throws about an hour before tip-off. His touch will surely return slowly after missing more than a month, but RoLo's presence in Rip City's middle instantly makes Portland a better defending and rebounding bunch. Timing's right, too: The Blazers have lost three straight and eight of their last 10, tumbling from second to fourth in the West and middle of the pack in most NBA power rankings during a downright crummy January.
Utah, on the other hand, has pretty much had a cruddy season. After winning just nine of their first 25 and reasonably setting low expectations, they've mercilessly teased their fans by playing .500 ball since. And now that the playoffs are probably firmly in the "long-term planning" category, the young Jazz have grown up some more, played increasingly better, and come in well-rested—three days removed from what some are already calling their signature win of the year at West-leading Golden State.
Can Portland bring the Jazz back down to earth? (Oh, and speaking of ushering things onto the planet [ALL-STAR SEGWAY], I'll be covering the next three Blazer home
matches games while your regularly scheduled Rip City blogtraordinaire Rob Simonsen and his wife welcome a new human child into their family. I'll say this: If that kid's name isn't Damian, you gotta consider that the second biggest snub of the year.)
Utah Jazz (17-30, 13th in West)—Gordon Hayward and Dante Exum at guard. Joe Ingles, Enes Kanter, and Derrick Favors at forward.
Off the bench: Trey Burke, Elijah Millsap, Steve Novak, Ian Clark, Chris Johnson, Rudy Gobert, Trevor Booker, Jeremy Evans.
Portland Trail Blazers (32-16, 4th in West)—Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews at guard. Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge at forward. Rolo in the middle.
Off the bench: Dorrell Wright, CJ McCollum, Will Barton, Meyers Leonard, Victor Claver, Allen Crabbe, Steve Blake, Chris Kaman, Thomas Robinson.
A nice cheer from a slow-arriving crowd as Lopez is shown on the big screen pregame. Unnecessary Meyers Leonard update? You got it: He's jumping rope at midcourt!
11:33—Exum takes Utah's first shot, a floater in the lane (altered by Lopez's wingspan) that goes long. Aldridge takes Portland's, and it's a drained mid-range jumper from the top of the key.
10:50—Lopez with an uncontested dunk off the feed from Batum. Nic throws up an arm in celebration as Lopez jams it home, and the crowd loves it. Blazers lead 4-2.
8:43—Aldridge with two straight open jumpers from mid-range, and he drains 'em both. Nice, fluid start for the big man, and the Blazers lead 10-6.
6:30—Lopez picks up a loose ball after a Hayward block and lays it in for another easy bucket. On the next Portland possession, Lopez hits a 10-footer and the Blazers are shooting 66% from the field so far tonight.
5:48—Timeout on the floor after an all-too-easy lay-in by Kanter. Blazers lead 14-12 behind six points each from Lopez and Aldridge. During the timeout, Lillard gets some love from the crowd for his fourth All-Star appearance. Kaman checks in for Lopez, who really couldn't have started much better.
4:33—Aldridge with a double-clutch jumper from (where else?) mid-range, and the Blazers have their biggest lead of the night, 18-12.
2:45—Blazers up 21-16 behind eight points from Aldridge. Lillard off to a slow start once again offensively (1/4 from the field), but he leads Portland with three assists.
2:26—Aldridge with a fadeaway jumper right in Favors' eye. He can only shake his head as he makes his way back up the floor: LA is 5 of 6 from the field so far tonight.
0:30—Kaman strong to the lane, but his shot rims out. No matter: Aldridge is there to follow it home. He has 14 points already, and Portland leads by six.
0:00—Blazers lead 27-23 behind a scorching start from Aldridge. He found his jump-shot early and even did a bit of dirty work at the end of the quarter to pace Portland. Favors has eight points to lead Utah.
12:00—Portland comes out with Matthews, Crabbe, Kaman, Leonard and Matthews. That's a second unit if I've ever seen one.
9:51—Leonard scores Portland's first points of the quarter on a contested jumper. After a Utah bucket, Blazers with their third turnover of the quarter.
7:46—Lillard drives baseline (which was cleared out by Lopez) and lays it in to give Portland a four-point lead. Blazers are shooting just 1 of 8 from deep, but it's not hurting them so far.
5:23—Batum fakes a three and smoothly drives the for a finger-rollin' layup. I'm pretty sure that wasn't a dream. Timeout on the floor, Portland up 35-31.
3:55—Aldridge with a fadeaway jumper from the baseline. From my view in Section 111, that looked like an impossible angle, but as Kevin Garnett taught us, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE, at Aldridge just proved it once again. Blazers still up 4.
3:22—Batum drains a 3 (!) and Portland has its biggest lead of the game. Jazz take a timeout, Portland up 42-35.
1:28—Jazz picking up their defense in the final moments of the quarter, pushing Portland to the end of their shot clock the last two possessions. Jazz tie it up on two free throws from Burke.
0:29—Hayward drains a 3 to give Utah it's first lead. They're on a 12-2 run to close out this quarter, and Portland takes a timeout. Lillard and Lopez check back in.
HALFTIME: Jazz lead 47-44 behind double-figure scoring form Hayward (12), Favors (11), and Burke (10). Utah shooting 47% from the field. Blazers are led by 16 from Aldridge (he had all but two of those points in the first quarter) and seven from Batum.
THIRD QUARTER...Blazers start with it, and come out with all their starters.
11:45—Lillard with a 3-point play to tie it up. Set up by a nice pass from Batum, who led Lillard all the way there.
10:08—Lopez creates his own shot, a little hook in the lane. Blazers have scored the first seven points on the quarter and suddenly lead by four. Crowd back in it.
8:18—Batum finds a slashing Lopez, who banks one home +1. Nice two-man effort there. RoLo misses the free throw, but Portland has its biggest lead at 57-50.
6:43—Blazers have forced two straight Utah turnovers to extend their lead to double digits. Matthews hits a pair of free throws after being fouled on the break, and Portland leads 62-51.
5:30—Lopez follows a Lillard miss with a jam, but he's called for goaltending. He looks surprised, but not as surprised as the rest of the crowd when the replay is shown. Timeout on the floor, Portland leads by five, and Utah is hanging in.
5:00—Utah back within two after a Haywood jumper. They're on a 9-2 run and looking like the hotter team.
4:39—Hayward with another bucket +1 and we're tied at 62. That's quite a swing in two minutes, and Hayward has 20 points. Radio broadcast saying Lopez is back in the locker room with a cut above the eye.
2:51—Blazers bring things a bit more back to order. They're up 68-64, but Utah isn't going away. Four Blazers in double figures now, with Aldridge still stuck at 16 points.
1:31—Blake hits a 3-ball from the corner after Lillard goes barreling into the lane and gets trucked by Kanter, but not before tossing it back to the perimeter. Portland up 72-66 now, and Lopez is back in his usual spot, laying down in front of the bench.
0:40.3—Technical call on Matthews for something. I'm going to go with "unbridled aggression."
0:00—Blazers lead 72-70 and the Jazz are peskily making this one a ballgame. Portland looked like it might distance itself early in the third but fresh-legged Utah had other plans. Hayward leads all scorers with 22, Lillard pacing Portland with 17 points. After scoring 14 in the first quarter, Aldridge has scored just two points—and that includes three missed free throws.
FOURTH QUARTER Blazers back out with a second team, this time with McCollum instead of Crabbe.
10:44—McCollum drains a 3—just Portland's fourth of the night—and the Blazers lead by five.
10:04—And now Matthews hits a 3-ball, rattling it in as he pats himself on the back. Utah comes right back down and bangs it inside, and Leonard picks up a foul +1. Three-point game.
8:52—Burke with a runner in the lane, and Utah once again has the lead, 80-78. This Jazz team is young, but man are they tough.
8:34—Leonard to the rescue. After faking a three and dribbling into the lane, he hits a runner from the free-throw line. That's a bonafide offensive move there, Meyers Leonard! We're tied at 80.
7:08—Whoa. Lillard with his nightly highlight-reel jam. This time, he rolls off a defender and tomahawk-slams it home over Gobert, which is no small feat. The crowd goes nuts and the Blazer bench loves it. Blazers up 1, the Garden is hopping, but the Jazz don't looked phased.
6:33—Hayward answers with a dunk of his own and the Utah radio announcer sitting near me goes nuts. On the other end, Lillard with a confident floater that goes in, and the Blazers still lead by 1.
5:03—Aldridge up and under for his first points since four minutes left in the second quarter. Blazers up 3, and they need LA down the stretch here.
4:31—Matthews with a 3 from the right corner, and Portland is up four. Time to pull away?
3:25—Matthews with another 3, off another touch-pass from Batum. Blazers up 9, and this might be the beginning of the end for Utah tonight. They've been harder to put away than Pirate's Booty tonight (THIS UPDATE BROUGHT TO YOU BY PIRATE'S BOOTY) but the streams of folks leaving the 100 level, this one is over.
2:22—Favors with a jumper, his 20th point. Blazers still up five, but Utah is fighting.
1:24—Hayward with a huge 3-pointer after Aldridge is blocked on the other end with a chance to put it away. Jazz back within 3.
1:09—Lillard. Scoop and hoop. Blazers lead by 5 again.
0:41.3—Lillard rattles out a 3-ball that would've done it, but Gobert tips it out on the rebound. Blazers' ball.
0:09.7—Ingles with a 3 from right in front of his bench! His first field goal of the game, and Utah is back within two! Man, talk about resilient. Utah should've been done four times over this half, but here they are, right in this thing until the very end. Blazers will have it at midcourt.
0:08.8—Blazers inbound and Aldridge is immediately fouled. He hits the first...Lopez checks in for Blake....and LA hits the second as crowd chants "MVP!" Timeout, Jazz, Blazers lead 103-99.
0:00.4—Burke drains a 3, and Utah is down 1, but this one is all but over. Lillard fouled. He misses the first....and the second, but on the rebound, the horn sounds.
FINAL: Blazers 103, Jazz 102. Utah certainly didn't make that easy on anybody here, but Portland prevails behind 20+ points from Lillard (25 points, 6 assists), Aldridge (22 pts, 11 rebounds), and Matthews (21 pts). Batum added 10 points, eight rebounds and 6 assists, while Lopez had 11 points and six rebounds in his return.
Shouldn't have been that close, but Portland starts the month off with a win after a forgettable January. Utah is playing with the confidence of a growing young team, which is bad news for Portland: They play the Jazz three more times this season.
Portland is back in action on Thursday, when they host Phoenix at 7:30. See you then (and congrats, Rob!).