Blazers push to beat Jazz

Oct 16 2013 - 11:57pm

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Wednesday night's Jazz-Trail Blazers preseason game at EnergySolutions Arena didn't feel much like an exhibition. In fact, it could have passed for one of those late-season affairs in which one team absolutely needed a victory to keep pace in the standings.

Portland needed a late push from former Weber State point guard Damian Lillard and ex-Jazzman Wesley Matthews in order to pull out a 99-92 win. Meanwhile, Utah's young players got to taste what it's like to be in a tight game going down to the wire, with no Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap to help lead the charge.

"Yeah, that's part of the process of learning to finish ballgames," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We played a pretty good game up until the last eight possessions. I think we were 0-for-8. We didn't close the game out."

No, they didn't. And neither Corbin nor his players were happy about coming up short in such a competitive game. But considering the circumstances -- their youth, inexperience and the recent loss to rookie first-round draft pick Trey Burke -- there was a few positives worth embracing.

"I think we did play a lot harder with a lot more focus," team leader Gordon Hayward said. "It's a step in the right direction but still too many mistakes down the stretch."

Hayward played 33 minutes and finished with 20 points on 5-for-16 shooting. Teammate Enes Kanter played 30 minutes, scoring a team-high 23 points on 10-for-17 shooting.

Derrick Favors added 10 points and 17 rebounds for the Jazz, who lost their third straight game.

Utah trailed 91-89 coming out of a timeout with 2:27 remaining. Hayward, Kanter, Favors, Alec Burks and training camp invitee Lester Hudson were on the floor during the crucial stretch and they watched rather helplessly as Lillard made a clutch 3-pointer and Matthews grabbed a key rebound.

Lillard finished with a game-high 24 points, which included a 10-for-10 showing at the free throw line. Former Jazz point guard Mo Williams added 17 points off the bench.

Center Robin Lopez had 13 points, 13 rebounds and two blocked shots for the Blazers, who played for the first time since thumping the Jazz 96-86 Oct. 11 in Boise.

Hayward said he was frustrated by the Jazz's inability to hit a shot when they really needed one. As a team they shot just 39 percent from the field and were outrebounded 57-43, included 16-9 in the fourth quarter.

But as one of the team's leaders, he took a deep breath and opted to be more positive than negative.

"Games like this are good for us younger guys with the experience we're going to get from this," he said. "It was a good learning experience tonight."

Playing without their Burke for the first time, they responded well for the most part. Corbin was able to juggle playing time for the guys trying to make the team - Hudson, mainly - but still used only 10 players.

The group on the floor late in the game consisted mostly of starters along with Hudson, who is fighting to make the roster as a third point guard.

Hudson played 27 minutes in all, scoring nine points hitting 3-of-4 behind the 3-point line.

He also had four rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Prior to Wednesday's game he had played a total of 27 minutes over the third three preseason games.

"We're juggling things around," he said. "We went with the lineup a little longer to night to see how we can play together (and) finish."

They didn't finish particularly well but for the Jazz players and coaches it was indeed a learning experience.

Contact reporter Jim Burton at 801-625-4265, jburton@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @jmb247.

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