SALT LAKE CITY – Coach Terry Stotts says the All-Star Break comes at a good time for every team in the NBA, but perhaps no team will welcome the break more than the Trail Blazers.
Portland limped into the All-Star break Wednesday with its third straight loss and fifth in six game with a 111-88 loss to Utah at Vivint Arena.
Portland (23-33) fell to a season-low 10 games below .500 and will resume play Feb. 23 sitting two games behind Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Utah (35-22) ended a three-game losing streak as All-Star Gordon Hayward had 22 points, seven assists and six rebounds and fill-in starter Joe Ingles added 18 points.
Lost in the numbing end to Wednesday’s game, when Utah led by as many as 22 in the fourth quarter, was the successful debut of Jusuf Nurkic, the 7-foot center acquired from Denver on Sunday in a trade for Mason Plumlee.
Nurkic finished with 13 points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes and he showed a little of everything from passing, to defense to being an inside presence. He first entered with 4:22 left in the first quarter and immediately lost the ball while trying to make an offensive move, but he later made a nifty touch pass to Allen Crabbe, blocked a Derrick Favors shot at the rim, and scored off an offensive rebound. All told, he made 5-of-5 shots, 3-of-4 free throws and added two steals, two blocks and an assist.
The Blazers also used a new starting lineup, with Ed Davis replacing Noah Vonleh at power forward and Meyers Leonard starting his second straight game at center. Leonard hit his first two three pointers in the opening minutes of the game, but was quiet thereafter, finishing with 10 points and one rebound in 24 minutes. Davis finished with seven points and five rebounds in 18 minutes.
The Blazers made a 15-0 run at the end of the first half and into the third quarter, erasing a 40-26 deficit to take a 41-40 lead with 11:31 left in the third.
But Portland could never get a sustained offensive push as its two stars – Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum – had off shooting nights. Lillard went 3-for-19 and finished with 13 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
McCollum picked up three fouls in the first quarter, anchoring him to the bench for all but the final 2:42 of the half. After missing his first five shots, he came in and made his next three to ignite the 15-0 run, but he suffered through an 8-for-19 night despite leading the team with 18 points.
Both teams struggled shooting in the opening quarter, with Utah missing its final 10 shots, allowing Portland to get within 18-17. Utah shot 6-of-21 (28.6 percent) in the quarter and Portland made 30.4 percent of its shots (7-of-23) as McCollum (0-for-5) and Lillard (1-for-7) were uncharacteristically off.
Next up: Blazers at Orlando, Feb. 23, 4 p.m. (CSN)