Jefferson leads Jazz past Blazers 86-77
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) When all else fails, the Utah Jazz just clear the way for Al Jefferson.
Jefferson had 21 points, including two one-handed shots in the lane, to help the Jazz beat Portland 86-77 on Friday night.
"You get him the ball in the post one-on-one against anybody in this league and we feel good about our chances," Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said.
Paul Millsap added 15 points for the Jazz, who have won eight of their last nine home games.
"We pretty much controlled the whole game," said Jefferson, who had 10 rebounds for his 22nd double-double of the season. "They made a little run and we knew before long they were going to do that."
That little run put a scare into the Jazz. LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds, made a putback to cap nine consecutive points by the Blazers and draw Portland within six at 78-72 with 5:28 remaining.
Alec Burks finally snapped the string of seven straight missed shots by Utah with a tip-in, but Damian Lilliard hit a 3-pointer make it 80-75 with 3:57 to play.
"Portland is an explosive team," Corbin said. "They are capable of scoring a lot of points in a short period of time."
But that's all the Blazers could muster down the stretch. Though the Jazz struggled to score, the Blazers came up empty on six straight possessions with two turnovers and four missed shots.
"We fought so hard to get back that I think we ran out of gas when it was time to turn it up again," said Lilliard, who played collegiately at Weber State in nearby Ogden and finished with 26 points.
The Blazers held the Jazz without a point for a span of 5:32 in the middle of the fourth quarter, but the Jazz made the shots down the stretch.
Utah finally clinched it on two free throws by Randy Foye and Jefferson's back-to-back push shots in the lane.
"My jumpshot wasn't falling, so I just kept trying to attack inside," Jefferson said. "They were double-teaming me from the cutting guy and then we finally made an adjustment as far as `don't cut.' So I had a chance to get going."
The Jazz center finally found the net to counter a 5-of-19 Jazz performance in the fourth quarter and came away with the win.
"What's encouraging is now Al is making passes to his teammates, so it's making it more difficult for teams to lock in on him," Corbin said pointing out that the Blazers did not double-team Jefferson on the final minutes.
Wes Matthews severely rolled his right ankle on a drive to the hoop in the third quarter and had to be helped off the court. He did not return. Locker room X-rays were negative, but it was not immediately known if he will miss any games.
The Blazers were on an upswing after a season-worst six-game losing streak. But they didn't have the offense this time to duplicate the 21-point comeback they had in a 106-104 victory over Dallas on Tuesday.
Utah's only blemish in the last nine games at home was a record-setting 125-80 loss to Houston. Like the Jazz, the Blazers are a different team away from home. Portland has averaged 102.3 points in three straight home wins, but has scored 90.7 points per game in dropping five of seven on the road.
"We had trouble scoring. We missed easy baskets, but you have those nights," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "They are a physical team in the paint and protect the paint very well so spacing becomes more important."
The Jazz and Blazers play all four of their season matchups in a two-month span, which may be good news for Utah's playoff hopes. Utah swept Portland last season and the same two teams face off Saturday night in Portland.
The Blazers are banged up and it's getting more dismal. Nicolas Batum scored just five points and often rubbed his sore right wrist in between plays.
While the Jazz fed Millsap and Jefferson in the post to the tune of 25 first-half points, the Blazers launched a bevy of errant jumpshots. The Jazz shot 61 percent on their way to a 51-36 advantage at the break.
"That's what we wanted to do. We wanted to come out, get to a good start and try punch them in the mouth early," Millsap said as the Blazers could never fully recover.
Notes: Lilliard received loud cheers in pregame introductions and when he made the first basket. "For them to cheer that loud when I came out meant a lot," the rookie said. ... Utah's Earl Watson left the court for the locker room with a sore leg in the first quarter and Millsap banged his left elbow and had to go to the bench for treatment in the third quarter. Both later returned but Watson didn't travel with the team so he could get an MRI on his lower right leg Saturday morning. ... Gordon Hayward, Utah's third-leading scorer, missed his third straight game with a right shoulder sprain and is doubtful for Saturday's rematch.
Updated February 2, 2013