SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – After beating one of the top teams in the Western Conference without All-Star Lauri Markkanen, the Jazz were defeated by one of the worse teams in the conference with Markkanen back in the lineup.
Markkanen was a one-man show, scoring 40 points, but Damian Lillard had 30 and Shaeden Sharpe added 24, as the Portland Trail Blazers pulled away for a 127-115 victory Wednesday night at Vivint Arena.
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.
“Credit to Portland,” said Jazz head coach Will Hardy. “They deserved to win. They played a lot better than we did. We looked a step slow kind of on everything defensively tonight. And they made some timely threes.”
Kris Dunn scored 15 off the bench for Utah, which had won four of five. Kelly Olynyk added 12, while Talen Horton-Tucker had 10.
Utah committed 17 turnovers, and gave up 75 points in the second and fourth quarters combined.
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.
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.
“We’ll have him looked at by our medical team,” Hardy said. “They talked to him during the game, and he said he was OK. But when his body cools down and he wakes up tomorrow, it could be a different story.”
Markkanen had missed a game with a tight back but returned to make 10 of his 11 shots inside the arc. But he managed only three points in the final quarter as Portland pulled away.
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).
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.
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.
The Jazz have also recently thrived by taking care of the ball, but the miscues reappeared against Portland with 17 turnovers.
Utah (35-37) fell back into the 11th spot in the Western Conference, one half game behind the Lakers.
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.
Utah fell to 2-1 when Markkanen scores 40 or more points this seaosn. 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.
The Jazz next host the Milwaukee Bucks Friday night.