Jazz get next shot at slowing Blazers’ Lillard

Damian Lillard is carrying the Portland Trail Blazers, and the star point guard stole the show on the night the Los Angeles Lakers were paying tribute to the late Kobe Bryant.

The 29-year-old veteran aims to continue his stretch of elite performances when the Trail Blazers host the Utah Jazz on Saturday night.

Lillard has been hotter than lava by averaging 44.3 points over the past seven games, including a 48-point, 10-assist, nine-rebound effort Friday in Portland’s 127-119 win over the Lakers. Lillard knocked down seven 3-pointers to set an NBA record by making 40 in a five-game stretch.

It was Lillard who most displayed the «Mamba Mentality» in a contest played after a tribute to the ultracompetitive Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and the seven others who died in Sunday in a helicopter crash.

«It was good that we had to compete, so being on the winning side was a positive,» Lillard said afterward, «but I don’t think anybody walks away from this moment and this situation a winner.»

Lillard shot 17 of 30 against the Lakers while falling two points shy of his third 50-point outing in his past five games. He established franchise records of 61 points and 11 3-pointers in a 129-124 overtime win over the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 20.

Lillard, named to the All-Star team for the fifth time on Thursday, also has posted three straight double-doubles, including his first career triple-double during a Wednesday victory over the Houston Rockets.

Trail Blazers center Hassan Whiteside also stood out against Los Angeles by scoring 30 points on 13-of-14 shooting as well as contributing 13 rebounds and five blocked shots.

Forward Carmelo Anthony is expected to be back in the lineup Saturday for the Trail Blazers, who have won three straight games and four of their last five.

Anthony didn’t make the trip to Los Angeles to face the Lakers as he continues to mourn the death of Bryant, a longtime close friend.

«People are affected differently by things,» Lillard told reporters at the team’s shootaround Friday. «Obviously, being in this situation and having to face something like this with one of your closer friends is just hard to do, so we all respect his decision.»

The Jazz gained respect when they were one of the hottest teams in the NBA, winning 19 of 21 games from Dec. 11-Jan. 25.

Suddenly, things are spiraling downward, and Utah is looking to avoid a season-worst fourth consecutive setback.

Utah’s slide began with a 126-117 home loss to the Rockets on Monday and continued with defeats in the first two contests of the three-game trip that ends in Portland. The Jazz fell 127-120 to the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday and 106-100 to the Denver Nuggets on Thursday.

The loss to Denver included a rare dreadful showing from shooting guard Donovan Mitchell.

Hours after Mitchell and center Rudy Gobert were both selected to their first All-Star Game, Mitchell sank just 1 of 12 shots while matching his season low of four points as Utah continually sputtered.

«We stalled for a lot of reasons,» Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. «It was difficult for us to attack. I think we have to have more resolve. We’re a team where guys make plays for each other, and we weren’t able to create for one another.»

Backup guard Jordan Clarkson kept Utah in the game by scoring 24 of his season-best 37 points in the fourth quarter. Clarkson made 13 of 22 field-goal attempts, including 7 of 12 from 3-point range.

«He’s unselfish, he attacks the rim, he gets to the line,» Snyder said. «If the system is defense, he’s embraced that, and I think he’ll continue to learn.»

Mitchell scored 35 points when the Jazz recorded a 121-115 home win over Portland on Dec. 26. Lillard had 34 points and eight assists.

–Field Level Media