Blazers return with a bang
A lot of regular-season basketball remains, but the Trail Blazers solidifed their standing as an NBA playoff team — and maybe a first-round homecourt team — with their first outing since the All-Star Game break.
Portland handled the host Utah Jazz fairly easily, turning away one of the Blazers' challengers for position in the Western Conference standings, 100-81 on Friday night.
Guards CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard led the way with 26 and 24 points, respectively, in Salt Lake City.
At the half, Portland led 53-47, behind some backcourt-led but balanced scoring. Lillard had 11, McCollum 10, Jusuf Nurkic eight, Al-Farouq Aminu seven and Moe Harkless six from the starting lineup.
The Jazz never were able to mount a serious charge the rest of the way.
Nurkic totaled 15 points and seven rebounds, and Aminu had 12 with eight rebounds.
Lillard was 7 of 18 from the field, McCollum 11 of 21, and Nurkic 7 of 15.
Utah's Donovan Mitchell went 8 of 20 and scored a team-high 21 points.
Other games involving NBA Western Conference included: Houston defeated Minnesota, 120-102; Cleveland beat Memphis, 112-89; New Orleans pulled off a 124-123 overtime win against Miami; Denver knocked off San Antonio, 122-119; and the Los Angeles Clippers downed Phoenix, 128-117.
The night's results left Portland and Denver (both 33-26) tied for sixth in the West, just behind 34-26 Oklahoma City.
Minnesota (36-26) and San Antonio (35-25) are tied for third, 1 1/2 games in front of the Blazers and Nuggets. New Orleans is at 32-26, a half-game behind Portland and Denver. The Clippers are next at 31-27, followed by Utah (30-29).
The Blazers will return to the court on Saturday, facing the Suns at Phoenix at 6 p.m. PT.