PORTLAND — Several times when coach Terry Stotts campaigned for his best player to make this year’s Western Conference All-Star team, he referred to LaMarcus Aldridge as the “foundation” of the Trail Blazers.
On Friday night, Portland could have used its two-time All-Star and the sure footing he brings to the game because without Aldridge the team collapsed 105-95 to the Utah Jazz.
Aldridge missed the game with a sprained right ankle and will not travel with the team on its two-game road trip that begins tonight against the Golden State Warriors. As Aldridge remains in Portland, so will the notion of that the Blazers can make the postseason.
The Jazz win elevated them to the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference, while the Blazers drop to 33-39 and deeper into no man’s playoff land.
“Our playoff odds are slim to none right now,” Stotts said, “but that doesn’t take away the goals from the beginning of the season to compete and get better.”
The improvement can start on the defensive end. The Blazers allowed the Jazz to dictate the tempo and attempt 86 shots, nearly 20 more than their own. On the offensive end, the Blazers can use some help there, too. Although Portland hit 6 of 13 shots from beyond the arc and set the franchise record for most made 3-pointers in a season, this skillful shooting was nowhere to be found when it most mattered.
“Just careless plays,” J.J. Hickson said of the team’s 16 turnovers.
Life without Aldridge would not seem so bleak — the Blazers held a nine-point advantage in the fourth quarter over the Jazz — had it not been for the team’s recklessness down the stretch. After taking the 89-80 lead with 6:43 remaining in the game, the Blazers’ offense suddenly turned sloppy with bad shots and even poorer passes.
Portland committed four turnovers over a five-possession stretch and when players weren’t careless with the ball, they horded it to themselves.
Wesley Matthews attempted a wild reverse layup. Damian Lillard split a double team only to run over Al Jefferson for the offensive foul. Then Matthews moved back, hoping for a better result, only to have his long jump shot blocked by Jazz guard Randy Foye.
“We played a good game until the turnovers caught up with us in the fourth quarter,” Stotts said. “They capitalized on them. Mo Williams had a great second half.”
More like a great five minutes.
Williams, who missed 32 games from right thumb surgery and did not play in the previous matchups against the Blazers, scored a game-high 28 points. As the Blazers’ offense remained locked in a perplexing funk, Williams calmly orchestrated the Jazz, scoring half of his points within the final 4 minutes and 50 seconds of the game.
“He didn’t play his best half in the first half,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said of Williams, “but he hung in there.”
Lillard scored 24 points to lead the Blazers and though he showed awareness by attacking the Jazz bigs who aren’t known for their shot blocking, he often engrossed himself in heated conversations with the officials. As Lillard crashed to the floor at the 9:45 mark — his drive to the rim and finish began the Blazers’ 12-0 run that led to their fourth-quarter advantage — he sprang right up to complain about a perceived missed call.
Usually displaying coolness, Lillard showed his frustration at the end of the game by seeking out official Kevin Scott. Lillard briefly followed Scott to the middle of the floor where the other two referees had gathered. This happened on a night when Lillard attempted a career-high 14 free throws.
Afterwards, Lillard downplayed his annoyance with the officiating.
“I guess no fouls happened,” Lillard said. “No fouls were called, so I guess they didn’t happen.”