Jazz-Trail Blazers Preview
By JEFF MEZYDLO
STATS Senior Writer
(AP) -- Even without injured star LaMarcus Aldridge, the Portland Trail Blazers remain confident amid their longest losing stretch of the season.
Looking to continue their success this season against the visiting Utah Jazz, the Trail Blazers try to avoid a fourth consecutive defeat Friday night.
With its leading scorer and rebounder in the lineup, Portland (36-18) lost by a combined eight points to Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers in its final two games before the All-Star break.
Then after announcing that Aldridge would miss a week because of a left groin strain, the Trail Blazers fell 111-109 at home Wednesday to a San Antonio team that was without Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.
Without Aldridge and injured forwards Joel Freeland (knee) and Meyers Leonard (ankle), Portland outrebounded the Spurs 45-40 and outscored them 54-42 in the paint. However, San Antonio shot 48.9 percent and reserve Patty Mills scored 29 points.
"It's different," said Portland guard Damian Lillard, who scored 31 points following his first All-Star appearance. "Without LA out there, that makes it tougher obviously."
Losers in seven of 10 and mired in their longest slide since dropping the final 13 games last season, the Trail Blazers don't appear too concerned with things getting out of hand considering they sit fifth in the Western Conference.
"We just have to continue to stay together," said veteran forward Dorell Wright, who had 10 points and five rebounds in just over 20 minutes during his first start of the season Wednesday. "That's the number one thing, staying together.
"The reason why you want to get off to a good start, rough patches like this - the games we did win early in the season are still holding us up. So we just have to find it and it'll happen."
The Blazers have had little trouble finding success while shooting 51.2 percent in winning their first two meetings with Utah (19-34) this season by a combined 43 points.
Though Portland will certainly miss Aldridge after he totaled 44 points in those contests, the backcourt of Lillard and Wesley Matthews combined for 45 on 15-of-20 shooting and hit nine 3-pointers during a 130-98 home rout of the Jazz on Dec. 6.
Lillard, who played collegiately in Utah at Weber State, has averaged 22.7 points and shot 54.8 percent in three home games against the Jazz.
Utah carried a season-high three-game winning streak into the All-Star break, but fell 105-99 to Brooklyn on Wednesday.
The Jazz hope Derrick Favors (12.9 ppg, 9.0 rpg) can return after missing that contest with a hip issue. Without their leading rebounder, the Jazz still owned a 46-33 advantage on the glass but committed 18 turnovers and were outscored 48-40 in the paint by the Nets, who shot 50 percent and overcame a 13-point, third-quarter deficit.
"We miss (Favors) a lot," Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. "The guys we have in there, we've got to do a better job."
Enes Kanter had 18 points and 10 rebounds in place of Favors, but Utah is 1-22 when he starts this season.
Jazz reserve guard Alec Burks has averaged 24.3 points on 21-of-35 shooting in the last three games. He scored a team-high 20 and went 8 of 11 from the field during a 105-94 home loss to Portland on Dec. 9.
Updated February 20, 2014