Lillard, Sharpe lead Blazers past Jazz to halt 6-game skid
By MATTHEW COLES
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Damian Lillard scored 30 points, rookie Shaedon Sharpe had a career-high 24 and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Utah Jazz 127-115 on Wednesday night to stop a six-game losing streak.
Trendon Watford added a season-best 21 points for the Blazers. Portland used a 9-0 run, sparked by Kevin Knox III’s alley-oop layup midway through the fourth quarter, to pull away.
Lillard capped the spurt with a layup to make it 113-100 with 5:51 to play, and the Jazz never got it back under single digits.
“What stands out is Shaedon - his game was incredible - and Trendon continues to be consistent,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said. “I liked everything from the team tonight.”
Lauri Markkanen had 40 points and 12 rebounds while Kris Dunn scored 15 off the bench for Utah, which had won four of five.
The Trail Blazers (32-40) won three of four against Utah (35-37) this season but are a long shot to make the play-in tournament as they are still three games behind the Jazz for the No. 10 spot in the Western Conference standings.
“We have played well in parts of all these games (we lost), but in this league you can’t have lows like we’ve had,” Lillard said. “Tonight we played a complete game.”
The only thing that could stop Markkanen was a sore left hand that got hit on a foul late in the third quarter. The 7-footer from Finland stayed down on the court and flexed and massaged his hand before going to the line to get his 37th point.
“The X-ray was good, clean. I don’t know more about it, but we’ll see how it feels tomorrow and go from there,” Markkanen said. “Once you get going, you don’t really think about it. But then obviously at dead balls and stuff it just happens to (hurt) again.”
Markkanen had missed a game with a tight back but returned to make 10 of his 11 shots inside the arc. He managed only three points in the final quarter, though, as Portland pulled away.
“We really locked up and stopped fouling,” said Sharpe, who had four steals.
Jusuf Nurkic scored 20 for the Trail Blazers to mark his first consecutive 20-point games in two months. But the game belonged to the youngsters, Watford and Sharpe, who were thrust into the spotlight with Portland missing starters Jerami Grant (thigh bruise) and Anfernee Simons (sore foot).
“I did what the team needed me to do, which is to defend, lock up, score the ball and make plays for others,” said Sharpe, who felt like he could “just hoop” without thinking too much.
In surprising wins against Sacramento and Boston, the Jazz employed a trapping 1-3-1 zone with great success. It wasn’t nearly as disruptive against Lillard and the Blazers.
“We took advantage of it,” Lillard said. “I got to the pocket and guys made shots, guys cut and finished, got to the free-throw line and I thought that was how we won the game.”
When forced to give up the ball, Lillard found easy shots for his teammates and matched a season high with 12 assists. So the Jazz played much more traditional man-to-man defense in the second half but with similar results against the ball-moving Blazers.
"We looked a step slow kind of on everything defensively tonight,” Utah coach Will Hardy said.
The Jazz have thrived recently by taking care of the ball, but the miscues reappeared against Portland with 17 turnovers.
The last time these teams met, Lillard scored 60 points on 21-of-29 shooting with nine 3-pointers in a 134-124 win on Jan. 25. This time, he was happy to share the ball to get another victory.
“I knew they wouldn’t be in a drop coverage again. You know, that’s an easy night for me anytime teams play that type of defense. So we just found another way to win,” Lillard said.
The Blazers said the play that really fueled their confidence was a lob from Watford to Sharpe for a thunderous dunk.
“He tells me to just put it up anywhere, so anytime I see him running on a break, it is pretty much going to be a matter of time for the oop,” Watford said.
Sharpe said those kind of plays make the game fun and easy.
“That one tonight might have been my favorite one of the year,” Watford said. "He makes me look like a really good lob passer.”
Trail Blazers: Lillard got a technical foul in the second quarter, his eighth of the season. … Portland had a 62-52 advantage in points in the paint. … Ryan Arcidiacono’s foul on an airborne Markkanen was upgraded to a Flagrant 1 in the fourth quarter.
Jazz: Utah fell to 2-1 when Markkanen scores 40 or more points. … Rudy Gay left in the third quarter with lower back spasms. … Jordan Clarkson missed his seventh game with a thumb sprain and Collin Sexton has been out for more than a month with a hamstring injury.
Trail Blazers: Start a five-game homestand against Chicago on Friday.
Jazz: Host the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday.
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Updated March 23, 2023