The Utah Jazz are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA and they knew when they walked into Moda Center Saturday night they were catching the Trail Blazers not only on the second night of back-to-back games, but after an extremely emotional effort Friday night that lasted long enough to keep the team from landing in Portland until the wee hours of the morning.
But even with all the video they watched and all the scouting they did, they probably didn’t understand the magnitude of the defensive task ahead of them.
“They didn’t stand a chance,” said Portland guard CJ McCollum, “They didn’t stand a chance. They walked into an avalanche.”
An avalanche by the name of Damian Lillard, who once again threw half-a-hundred on the box score, getting 51 points, 12 assists and only one turnover on just 29 shots -- hitting 9 of his 15 threes and 17 of his 29 shots while making all eight of his free throws.
“Whoever has to guard him better get some sleep and really think about the game plan because they’re in trouble,” McCollum said with a smile. “The rhythm he’s in, the efficiency of getting to his spots, getting to the free-throw line, he’s passing the ball the best I’ve ever seen him pass it.
“He’s the most efficient basketball player in the league for the last month or so. Like I always say, he’s a machine. He’s built for these type of moments. When we’re struggling, he gets it going and we’re reaching that part of the season where he usually turns it up a notch.”
Lillard scored 50-plus points for the third time in the last six games and the fourth time this season. He has averaged 48.8 points and 10.2 assists over those six games.
He also set an NBA record with six straight games of six or more three-point field goals made.
And his performances have rubbed off on his team’s offense. Portland won 124-107, scoring at least 120 points for the sixth consecutive game -- the longest such streak in the league this season and tying the longest such streak in franchise history, set in 1990.
“I think it’s coming together,” Lillard said. “I think that’s the best way to describe it. We’re getting healthier, we’re starting to figure out what works for us. I think Trevor (Ariza) has made a huge difference for our team at both ends. Caleb (Swanigan) has come in and made a huge difference. Gary Trent is having a hell of a season and he’s been consistent and he’s taking the challenge and showing up and giving us a lot.”
Hassan Whiteside once again had a big role, with 17 points, 21 rebounds and three blocked shots.
“Of course everybody is going to look at the crazy numbers and what I’m doing because that’s a story, but you don’t win the games scoring 50 points," Lillard said. "We’re scoring 130 points and he’s getting 20 rebounds, covering up for our defensive mistakes -- five, six, seven blocks.”
Beating the Lakers and Jazz on consecutive nights is no small feat.
“I told the team I thought that’s as good of a back-to-back as you’re gonna get,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “To go to LA under the circumstances of that game and get a win, and then come back here, get back here at 2:30 in the morning, and beat a good, rested team, that’s a hell of a back-to-back. I’m proud of the way we’re playing.”
But when you have that avalanche on your side, you can bury any team.