Blazers claim No. 3 seed with 102-93 win over Utah
By ANNE M. PETERSON
Apr. 12, 2018
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Trail Blazers already knew their opponent for the first round playoffs, and they had already locked up home-court advantage.
But they were still inspired for their regular-season finale against the Utah Jazz.
Damian Lillard had 36 points and 10 assists and the Blazers snapped a four-game losing streak with a 102-93 victory over the Jazz Wednesday night to earn the Northwest Division title.
With the win in the regular-season finale, Portland claimed the third seed in the Western Conference and will play the sixth-seeded New Orleans Pelicans in the opening round.
"One game and we're playing for the third spot and the division championship," Lillard said about the team's motivation against the Jazz. "And that's something to be proud of it. That's something to care about and to play for. We worked too hard not to go and get that, especially on our home floor."
The Jazz, who saw a six-game winning streak snapped, fell to the fifth seed. They'll face No. 4 Oklahoma City on the road to open the playoffs. The schedule had not been set.
Utah rookie Donovan Mitchell, who the night before set the new single-season record for 3-pointers with 186 — breaking Lillard's rookie mark — was 1-for-8 from the perimeter but finished with 17 points.
Ricky Rubio also had 17 while Rudy Gobert had 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Jazz, who were coming off a 119-79 victory at home against the Warriors on Tuesday night.
"We rushed a little bit. We weren't all on the same page at times," Mitchell said. "We were really taken off our course. When they get into you, you gotta get the guy off you and make the play. Over time that really disrupts you."
CJ McCollum had 19 points for the Blazers, who led by as many as 24 points in the second half.
For both teams, the game was all about seeding because the first-round playoff matches were determined earlier in the evening. The Blazers secured home-court advantage for the first round for the first time since 2009.
Before the game Terry Stotts said the outcome of the Pelicans' finale against the Spurs was unlikely to have an impact on how Portland approached the Jazz. New Orleans won 112-98.
"Like I told the team, winning the division is a big deal. It's always going to be there. It's always going to be in the rafters, the banner will be up in the practice facility," Stotts said afterward. "It's been an up and down season, but I'm really pleased with the way we played tonight. We played well, and have some momentum going into the playoffs."
Dante Exum, who left Utah's victory against the Warriors the night before with leg soreness, played for 20 minutes with six points.
The Blazers went up 39-27 on McCollum's reverse layup in the second quarter and led by as many as 16 points in the first half. Portland led 55-41 at the break and Lillard led all scorers with 19 points.
No Jazz player was in double figures. Mitchell struggled in the first half, going 3-for-13 from the field.
McCollum wrestled a rebound and got the jumper from close in to give the Blazers a 67-50 lead. Lillard's layup ended the third quarter with Portland 80-59.
Portland extended the lead to as many as 24 points, but the Jazz closed with within 85-74 with 7:39 left on Mitchell's layup and a free throw. Lillard came back in the game and made three jumpers to push Portland's lead to 91-76.
"This group's had an excellent season. They year isn't over," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "We have a chance to play in the post-season. That's something that these guys have accomplished."
Jazz: Derrick Favors played in his 500th game with the Jazz. He's the 12th player in franchise history to reach the milestone. ... It was Gobert's 31st double-double of the season.
Trail Blazers: Maurice Harkless told reporters before the game that it was unclear if he'd be able to return in the first round. Harkless had arthroscopy on his left knee on March 28. ... Evan Turner won the team's Maurice Lucas Award as the player who best represents Lucas' spirit in his contributions off and on the court.
FOCUSING ON THE OPPONENT: Both teams were already talking about the first-round matchups.
"It's just a different style of basketball going into the playoffs, especially with that team (the Thunder)," Derrick Favors said. We just know it's something we've got to be prepared for, be ready for. We've got to be mentally strong going in and just be ready to play, but also have fun and enjoy it."
Lillard noted that Portland split the regular season series with the Pelicans.
"They stole one from us here, and we felt like that was a game that we should have had. We had a bad third quarter," Lillard said. "But they have Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Rondo, E'Twaun Moore, they've got a lot of guys that make them a dangerous team."