Boise, Idaho • He left college after only two years, and there are still many lessons to be had in the education of Jazz point guard Trey Burke.
On Tuesday the teacher was Stephen Curry; Saturday it will be Chris Paul. But on Friday, in a cozy arena in Boise, Damian Lillard took to the lectern.
The Jazz lost 96-86 in an exhibition game against the Portland Trail Blazers in front of 6,268 at CenturyLink Arena, home of the D-League Idaho Stampede.
Burke, the much-studied and endlessly discussed gem of a relatively quiet offseason, finished with seven points on 3-of-10 shooting. Meanwhile, Lillard, who played collegiately at Weber State, 30 miles up Interstate 15 from the Jazz’s home arena, was making ridiculous plays across the court. Four-point plays, an alley-oop dunk, sliding past columnar screens from LaMarcus Aldridge. He finished with 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting.
It was the first of what is sure to be many matchups between the anointed futures of division rivals: Lillard, the reigning Rookie of the Year, and Burke, who has publicly coveted the prize. But to compare the two point guards at this point is as unfair as their matchup seemed Friday night.
“I know everybody wants these expectations on me, just early on,” Burke said. “I’m just going to ... try not to press to play up to them.”
Burke entered the game with a set of plays given to him by coach Tyrone Corbin. How many plays, Corbin wouldn’t reveal, but he said Burke “did a good job of mixing those plays plus pushing the tempo.”
The Jazz invited high expectations of Burke when they sacrificed two first-round picks to move up five spots on draft night to select the consensus national college player of the year with the ninth overall pick. Generally acknowledged as the best point guard in the draft, he was considered to be likely out of the Jazz’s range.
When Corbin and general manager Dennis Lindsey first spoke of the acquisition they gushed, as smitten as if they had just been invited to a Sadie Hawkins dance.
Those were the good days, before Burke floundered with a 1-of-19 performance on 3-pointers at the Orlando Pro Summer League and before the reality of NBA competition truly set in. But it’s also what growth looks like.
It may not have been encapsulated better than on a sequence of plays in the third quarter, when Burke crossed over Lillard and made a 21-foot fade-away jumper over a fully extended Lillard.
On the Jazz’s next possession, Burke overdribbled and was trapped in the corner by a hyperactive Lillard. Lillard poked and pushed, forcing Burke to turn the ball over. It was one of just two turnovers for Burke, who added five assists — a ratio the Jazz will gladly take.
On Tuesday, in 101-78 win over Golden State to open the preseason, Burke finished with 12 points in an efficient debut.
Lillard gave Burke far more trouble than any matchup the Warriors presented.
“Heck of a player,” Burke said. “You can’t take anything away from his scoring ability. He’s a really good scorer, a really good distributor.”
The Jazz led early against the Blazers, but a 12-2 run late in the first quarter gave Portland an edge it wouldn’t budge from.
Former Jazz guard Mo Williams added 11 points and seven assists in 22 minutes off the bench. Williams, who started 46 games at point guard last season in Utah, serves as the Blazers’ sixth man after signing a two-year free agent contract worth $5.6 million in August.
That performance, however, was of passing interest. All eyes are now on the new point guard, not the old one — who has another big matchup to worry about on Saturday, when Paul leads the Los Angeles Clippers into EnergySolutions Arena.
“I love it that way,” Burke said. “It’s going to make me better. That’s what I expected coming into this league, night in and night out playing against some of the best guards in the world.”
O Gordon Hayward leads the Jazz with 20 points.
• Damian Lillard scores 23 points to lead all scorers while All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge adds 20 points and 8 rebounds for the Blazers.
• The Jazz rest forward Richard Jefferson.