The Utah Jazz handled the Portland Trail Blazers in near-perfunctory fashion on Monday night, cruising to a 112-102 victory, solidifying their hold on the 8th seed in the Western Conference bracket, and making the Blazers look like an inferior, inexperienced team.
Mandatory Caveat: The Blazers played without All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
Mandatory Caveat #2: The Blazers are inexperienced, and at this point clearly inferior to the Jazz.
The first quarter started with the tried-and-true plan of Al Jeffersoning the Blazers to death. Jefferson only scored 8 in the period...far from the worst total an opponent has posted on the Blazers in a quarter this season. But he scored with mocking ease. Had his offensive moves been online posts they would have been accompanied by the sarcasm font and a sneering emoticon. With Jefferson sending the implicit message that he could go Wilt Chamberlain on the Blazers' interior defenders should he so desire, Portland was left vulnerable to Utah's perimeter players. Randy Foye and Mo Williams began a night-long shooting spree, peppering in the occasional drive for fun. When the smoke cleared the Blazers were shooting near 50% but the Jazz were far over, owning a 29-19 lead.
Portland posted a brief comeback in the second period on Utah's complacent bench players. But the spark was short-lived. The Jazz still led by 7 going into the break, stretched it to double digits in the third, then cruised home.
The Blazers ended up blistering the nets from distance, shooting 13-23 (56.5%) from the arc for the game. This fueled their brief runs. Every time they'd threaten, though, the Jazz would beat them back while capitalizing on three factors:
1. They shot the three well themselves, 9-22 for 41%. Mo Williams went 6-7 from distance all by himself.
2. The Blazers turned over the ball 16 times, often on looping, Pick 6 passes. (I guess in basketball that's Pick 2, but you get the idea.)
3. When all else failed, they just Jeffersoned again for a while.
The Blazers actually ended up shooting 58% for the game. It's hard to make a 60% offensive night feel like a blowout but they managed with a 10-3 offensive rebound deficit, that 16-6 turnover disparity, a 52-28 hole in the paint, and combined 26-44 shooting from Jefferson, Williams, and Paul Millsap. You know that thing when you check into your honeymoon suite and find a pile of week-old Cheetos, a hive of fire ants, a German Shepherd, and a drunk circus clown in your bed? That's how bad Portland's defense was for large stretches of this game. Much of the Blazers' 58% shooting clip seemed like mercy from the Jazz. "Naw, man. We can't defend you. We'd feel mean. Take the alley-oop." Even so, the Blazers had to try, like, four oops to Meyers Leonard before one connected.
The guy I felt sorriest for tonight? Portland coach Terry Stotts. He looked like he was going to burst a blood vessel in his temple. At first it was the refs but as the game progressed you could tell he was...not exactly happy about the level of basketball his team was playing. Season's almost over, coach. Just get them to beat the Lakers a week from Wednesday (plus the last game of the season against the Warriors) and everybody goes home happy.
Victor Claver actually squeezed some juice out of that Wax Fruit Jumper tonight! He shot 4-5, 2-3 from the arc, and scored 12 points in 29 minutes. Claver and the two point guards were the only guys playing full force in this game.
Speaking of point guards, Damian Lillard hit a few threes to push his point total to 17, breaking the NBA record for triples made in a rookie season in the process. He had 5 assists and 5 rebounds. Mo Williams went for 20 and 9 and could have had more but he was pulled because of the score.
Eric Maynor played ultra-aggressively again on offense. The output was better than in his latest 1-7 effort. He shot 4-6 for 10 points and 8 assists in 28 minutes.
Wesley Matthews played great on offense was well, happily taking a free pass to shoot threes, hitting 4-7 from that range, and scoring a team-high 23 in the process.
Meyers Leonard kept active, made a few nice plays on offense. Every game under his belt is a good game. He played 38 minutes tonight.
Don't ask about J.J. Hickson and really really really don't ask about Nicolas Batum. Really.
The Blazers return home on Wednesday to face the tough-defending Memphis Grizzlies. At least the confines will be friendly.
SLCDunk is doing playoff math and coming up with happy sums.