Jazz put game away early
According to Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, John Stockton threw exactly one between-the-legs pass in his 18-year career. You can only imagine Sloan's reaction when Deron Williams flipped one to Wesley Matthews for a three-pointer only 2:19 into Saturday's game.
Even that early, though, the Jazz probably could tell they were in for an easy night against the Portland Trail Blazers. They started fast and finished strong, even down to just eight players in the end, taking a 108-92 victory before 18,051 at EnergySolutions Arena.
The Jazz hit their first eight shots and finished at 60.6 percent with 36 assists for the night. It was the second consecutive game in which they shot better than 60 percent, something that last happened more than 14 years ago, Jan. 30 and Feb. 1, 1995.
"We're executing great right now," said Williams, who totaled 25 points and 15 assists. "It's fun to be a part of. We share the ball like this, we execute, it's a lot more fun than going one-on-one and being selfish."
The Jazz led by as many as 27 points in the fourth quarter even as Paul Millsap (bruised left knee) and Andrei Kirilenko (strained lower back) both left in the second quarter and didn't return.
Millsap banged knees and was optimistic ("Hopefully, it's just an overnight thing," he said) he would be able to practice today and play Monday. Kirilenko said he was suffering from a recurrence of the back tightness he regularly has battled.
"I think it's the same thing I used to have like from two to six days," Kirilenko said. "It depends how you treat it and when you stop it. I tried to stop it early and kind of make it off a little bit."
The absences didn't stop the Jazz from winning their first Northwest Division game of the season after two losses. They came into Saturday in the unfamiliar position of fourth in the division behind Denver, Portland and Oklahoma City.
"It's one step in the right direction," Carlos Boozer said. "We've got to keep playing like this and hopefully we can collect some more wins . . . .If we can continue to win while we get healthy, we have a chance to be very good."
The Jazz (9-7) won for the sixth time in eight games and have the opportunity to build a winning streak with their next three games coming against Memphis, Indiana and Minnesota, who own a combined 13-33 record this season.
They carried the momentum from Thursday's victory over Chicago into the first quarter Saturday. Boozer came up with a steal and went end to end for a dunk. Mehmet Okur blocked Greg Oden and Matthews hit the three-pointer off the between-the-legs pass.
Boozer had 26 points and 12 rebounds on 11-for-16 shooting and drained three jumpers in the first quarter as Oden and the Blazers gave him plenty of cushion to shoot.
The former All-Star has gone 34-for-45 (75.6 percent) the last three games, with one fan waving a sign in the fourth quarter Saturday that read "Re-sign Boozer Now."
The Jazz closed the first quarter with a 32-17 lead after Williams hit Millsap for an alley-oop down the lane. Instead of setting up for a pick-and-roll, Millsap cut backdoor for the dunk, the last of Williams' eight assists in the opening 12 minutes.
Williams hit three jumpers in the third quarter as well as a three-pointer after Portland shifted into a zone defense. He later drove and delivered a nifty over-the-shoulder pass to Boozer for a layup with a minute left in the third.
"I've got a little flash in my game every now and then," Williams said.
Playing the second game of the back-to-back, the Blazers closed within eight points in the second quarter. Even with Boozer on the bench in foul trouble and Millsap and Kirilenko lost to injuries, the Jazz took a 59-44 lead into halftime after two baskets by Kyrylo Fesenko.
"All I'm interested in are the results," Sloan said when asked about the between-the-legs pass. "It doesn't have to have a lot of flair. Whatever they've got, whatever they put out there is fine with me."
IN SHORT » The Jazz run away with their first Northwest Division victory of the season, shooting 60.6 percent against Portland.
KEY MOMENT » Paul Millsap's alley-oop dunk from Deron Williams gives the Jazz a 32-17 lead after the first quarter.
KEY STAT » Portland comes into Saturday giving up an average of 89.5 points.