Ex-Jazz guard Matthews lifts Portland over Utah
Portland, Ore. •Â Running the court without key players Andrei Kirilenko, C.J. Miles and Mehmet Okur was tough enough for the short-handed Jazz on Thursday night. But getting beat twice in four days by the Portland Trail Blazers and severely pounded by ex-teammate Wesley Matthews? The absolute, pristine definition of adding insult to injury.
An increasingly smooth Matthews tied a career high with 30 points on 9-of-16 shooting and drilled four 3-pointers, as Utah fell 100-89 to the Blazers at the Rose Garden in a Northwest Division contest.
"I thought he had a great game," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who acknowledged that Portland is "a little better" than Utah right now.
With Kirilenko and Okur sidelined because of back injuries and Miles dealing with the flu, Sloan said prior to tipoff that his team was about to take the court just trying to find a way to win.
But where Utah (22-11) was able to unearth yet another come-from-behind victory Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers, a Jazz team that has been defined this season by its resiliency ultimately lacked the firepower and energy necessary to outman a Blazers team (17-16) that has also been marked by its character and fight.
Sloan said that he thought Utah would have more will. When his team did not, he questioned why.
"I have to worry about our guys," Sloan said. "I just wish we had played a little bit better and won the ball game, but we didn't. That's what is frustrating."
Sloan was not the only Jazz member dealing with frustration. Al Jefferson sank deep into his chair in Utah's locker room after the loss, spending several minutes alone. Teammate Deron Williams did the same a few seats down.
Asked whether a Jazz team that at times has produced a better record than it has actually played this season, and is now dealing with several key injuries, faces an imposing challenge nearly one half of the way through the season, both replied with the same answer: yes.
But Williams followed up with a stronger point. He said that Utah has toyed with fire all season, either not performing for a full 48 minutes or digging a hole so deep that the Jazz have often been forced to exhaust all of their energy just to pull out a victory. Now Utah is being asked to tunnel through a tough emotional wall at the same time that other teams are finally starting to click. In addition, the Jazz's offense has yet to fully sync up, while overall execution has been difficult to obtain.
Williams cautioned that it is not time to panic. But Utah must improve if it truly wants to be one of the best teams in the NBA.
"I felt we've only played good in a couple stretches [this season]," said Williams, who added that Utah was "lucky" on its well-documented 4-0 road trip from Nov. 9-13 that featured major comeback victories against Miami, Orlando, Atlanta and Charlotte.
"We can't keep getting down early. We're going to burn out," Williams said. "It's hard to come back every night. It takes a toll on your body. It takes a toll on you mentally. I don't know what it is, but we have to do something else."
Williams scored a team-high 19 points and dished out eight assists against the Blazers, while Jefferson added 13 points and 10 rebounds.
But Matthews' sharpshooting was complemented by the outside-in offensive game of Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge. After burning the Jazz for 26 points Monday during a Blazers victory in Salt Lake City, Aldridge was just as impressive and damaging Thursday, recording 27 points and constantly stretching Utah's already-strained defense.
Down 19-0 midway through the first quarter, the Jazz pulled within 52-51 early during the third period before an 18-4 Blazers run turned out the lights.
"Portland's just played us well twice," Williams said. "They played better than us. They played harder than us."
R In short • The Jazz fall to the Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden.
Key stat • Ex-Utah guard Wesley Matthews ties a career high with 30 points.
Key moment • Portland uses a 14-2 run midway through the third quarter to take a 70-55 lead.
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