- Associated Press - Friday, February 23, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard believe the crucial stretch of the long NBA season starts now and the Portland Trail Blazers have laser-like focus.

“We understand what’s at stake now,” McCollum said. “One game - a loss or a win - could sway the Western Conference playoff race.”

McCollum scored 26 points, Lillard added 24 and the Trail Blazers snapped the Utah Jazz’s 11-game winning streak with a 100-81 victory on Friday night.

“We did a great job keeping our focus, even when they made shots, went on runs and the crowd got into it. Our mentality allowed us to weather each storm that came,” Lillard said.

McCollum and Lillard drove through and around the Jazz defense, which was ranked at the top of the league during their streak.

The Jazz finally got within single digits at 90-81 but McCollum scored on three consecutive isolation plays, all contested jumpers.

“We knew it was a big possession on that first one as they had cut our lead from double digits and their fans were getting into it,” McCollum said. “Called me a pick-and-roll, trying to get me some space. Got to the free throw line area, which is more of a sweet spot for me, a comfort shot. I rose up and hit it, so we just did the same thing again and again.”

Lillard cooled off from his previous three games, when he shot 42 for 76 and scored more than 44 points a game. But he worked numerous screens and had the Jazz defenders chasing the ball and opening opportunities for the other Blazers.

Jusuf Nurkic scored 15 points and Al-Farouq Aminu had 12 for the Blazers, who are now tied for sixth place in the Western Conference and just one-and-a-half games out of third place.

Donovan Mitchell had 21 points for Utah. Rudy Gobert scored 15 and Joe Ingles contributed 12 but the Jazz were sloppy with ball.

During their long winning streak, the Jazz consistently came up with loose balls in key scramble situations. Against Portland, the Jazz couldn’t seem to hold on to the basketball, committing 20 turnovers and having numerous rebounds and passes squirt right through their hands.

“Turning the ball over as much as we did makes it really difficult. Obviously, we struggled on the offensive end. To me, it really starts there,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “We just didn’t have that juice.”

The Blazers have won four of five, with the only loss a blowout to the Jazz on Feb. 11.

After Mitchell trimmed the Portland lead to 53-49, McCollum hit two 3-pointers and a runner to spark a 13-2 run. After the Jazz trimmed it back to 11, Lillard’s crossover stepback jumper gave the Blazers an 80-64 lead entering the final period.

The Blazers are looking to follow a pattern of strong finishes as they reached the playoffs with a 17-11 closing record in 2016 and an 18-8 post-All-Star Game mark in 2017.

“Our guys were really locked in. I was really pleased with the way we sustained our defensive focus throughout the game,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said.

TIP-INS

Blazers: Portland scored 22 points off Utah’s 20 turnovers. … The Blazers never trailed. … Portland only allowed six second-chance points and had 14 on their end. … Mo Harkless had six steals.

Jazz: Ricky Rubio returned after missing three games before the All-Star break with a sore left hip and had four points. Conversely, reserve point guard Raul Neto sprained his ankle in shootaround Friday. … Gobert got a technical foul in the third quarter after arguing a no-call.

RETURN TO PRESENT

Darrell Griffith, who has been a mentor to Mitchell and the last Utah player to win the Rookie of the Year award, presented the Slam Dank champion trophy before the game. Both guards played collegiately at Louisville. Griffith starred for the Jazz from 1980-91 and is a favorite of more than one member of the Utah organization. “I had a Dr. Dunkenstein Nike poster,” Snyder said. “I know him. I know him well.”

UP NEXT

Blazers: Visit the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night.

Jazz: Host the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night.


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