Blazers drop season finale at Utah



SALT LAKE CITY — Rookie Alec Burks scored 18 points and NBA Slam Dunk champ Jeremy Evans led a 10-0 fourth-quarter run as the playoff-bound Utah Jazz beat the Portland Trail Blazers 96-94 Thursday night.

Utah finished the season on a five-game winning streak and will face top-seeded San Antonio in a first-round Western Conference matchup starting Sunday.

J.J. Hickson scored 20 points and Jonny Flynn added 18 to lead the injury-depleted Blazers, who didn’t qualify for the postseason for the first time since the 2007-08 season.

Evans rarely plays but saw extensive action as Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin played his starters sparingly. Evans finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. Josh Howard added 12 points and six rebounds in his most extensive action for Utah since undergoing knee surgery in late March.

Wesley Matthews had a chance to win it for Portland but his 3-pointer missed with 2.4 seconds left.

Corbin sat power forward Paul Millsap as a precaution so he would be rested for the playoff-savvy Spurs. Three other starters exited in the first quarter.

Still, it was enough to beat the Blazers, who are but a shell of the team they once were.

Portland’s season started with the retirement of All-Star guard Brandon Roy and another injury to former No. 1 overall draft pick Greg Oden, and was interrupted by several major trades, the firing of coach Nate McMillan and injuries to top players such as LaMarcus Aldridge.

While Portland figures out how to shake off one of the most disappointing seasons in recent history, the Jazz appear headed in the right direction after crumbling down the stretch last year following the abrupt retirement of Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan and trade of superstar point guard Deron Williams.

Utah has been forced to playoff mode early, knowing it needed to win most of its games down the stretch to grab the eighth and final berth in the West.

Thursday, it was a chance to get players like Howard and reserves some action, and let the fans enjoy the Jeremy Evans show.

Ironically, an April 2 meeting in Portland helped Utah turn its season around. The Jazz were down 14 in the first half when Corbin inserted his Big Three lineup — with 6-10 Derrick Favors playing alongside 6-10 center Al Jefferson and the 6-8 Millsap moving to small forward.

The trio sparked a 19-point turnaround that has Corbin relying on it more and more, and even considering using it to start games.

Favors made only his ninth start of the season Thursday, but in the first 12 minutes, had eight points, five rebounds, a block, assist and highlight-reel dunk. He would finish with 15 points and five rebounds.

In the second quarter, the Blazers used an 11-4 run to tie the score at 27 behind Kurt Thomas and Flynn.

Jazz reserves brought Utah back, with NBA D-League call-up Blake Hearn and Evans scoring five apiece in the quarter as Utah took a 47-40 lead into the break.

Thomas’ 19-footer put Portland back in front 79-78 with 10:40 remaining, and Matthews’ 3-pointer made it 84-80.

Portland led 88-84 before Utah went on a 10-0 run.

Howard tied it at 88 on a 5-foot bank shot with 5:18 remaining, and back-to-back high-flying jams by Evans gave Utah a 90-88 lead.

NOTES: Utah finished the season with a 25-8 mark at home. … The game marked the return of Jazz SG Raja Bell after missing 13 games with a left knee injury. He entered with 9:29 left in the first half, mostly to cheers with a few boos. It was only his second game since a blow-up with Corbin that resulted in Bell being sent home from a road trip. He was the only Jazz player who didn’t score. …The Blazers did not play Raymond Felton (Achilles pain), Jamal Crawford (right knee tendinitis), Hasheem Thabeet or Nicolas Batum. … Jazz SF Howard was called for a technical in the third quarter.