Utah Jazz fall 111-99 to Portland
Their super-sized images have been together all season, standing outside the entrances to the arena.
But in what's been dubbed a season of discovery, it took until Friday night 78 games in before the Jazz's young core finally heard their names all called together in the starting lineup.
Jazz coach Ty Corbin inserted Alec Burks into the starting five, alongside Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. It was a move the coach chalked up to late-season experimentation. "We just want to look at some different things at this point," he said. But while the coach was happy with some of what he saw Friday night at EnergySolutions Arena, the end result was a familiar one: a loss.
The Jazz fell to the Portland Trail Blazers 111-99, dropping to 24-55 on the season and moving even with the Boston Celtics for the fourth-worst record in the NBA.
For now, the Jazz will have to take the bad with the good.
"It provides experience," said Hayward, who had 14 points, six assists and five rebounds. "You can't teach that. Playing together, when you get that experience, you get chemistry. You can't teach that."
The lineup of Burke, Burks, Hayward, Favors and Kanter had been used in 21 games for a total of just 74 minutes before Friday night. Against Portland, they saw 16 minutes together. The lineup shot 15-of-32 for 36 points. They were outscored by a single point in that time.
The Jazz held a lead for much of the first half.
Burks was asked to provide an early spark and he did just that, scoring 13 before intermission. But the shooting guard scored just three more the rest of the way as he played a career-high 42 minutes.
After three quarters, the Jazz and Blazers were knotted up at 76.
That's when former Weber State star Damian Lillard got going.
The All-Star point guard didn't register a field goal until the 9:53 mark of the fourth quarter. But he finished the game with four triples and 16 points to go along with six assists.
"Obviously, Damian's shots came at the right time," said Burke, who was tasked with guarding the reigning rookie of the year.
All five of the Portland starters finished in double-figures, led by former Jazz man Wes Matthews' 21. With the win, Portland improved to 52-28 and completed a four-game season sweep of the Jazz.
The move to starter was not a surprise to Burks, who was informed of the change at Thursday's practice, nor was it particularly viewed as a promotion.
"I play a lot regardless," said Burks, who logs 28 minutes a game, the fourth-most on the team.
Still, the new lineup provided some things to like.
"We're all young. We're all athletic. We can push the pace, play up-tempo, be aggressive," Burks said.
Favors scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Kanter had a double-double with 15 points and 13 boards. Burke also had a double-double, scoring 14 points and dishing 11 assists.
"I feel like the future's definitely bright," Burke said, while acknowledging it may not look that way given the team's record. "But I think we've got good young talent and the future's bright."
But that future isn't here yet.
"We've got to be better obviously," a somber Hayward said afterward. "Winning teams make winning plays. They made those down the stretch. We have to learn from that."