Jazz in playoff driver’s seat with win over Blazers
By Brian T. Smith
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Apr 18 2012 07:31PM
Portland, Ore. • A recharged Devin Harris confidently stepping up and drilling 3-pointers. Rookie Alec Burks flying through the air and pouring in points. The Jazz in eighth place in the Western Conference with just three games to go.
If Utah had been presented with the above at the start of training camp for the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season — the year after coach Jerry Sloan resigned and All-Star guard Deron Williams was traded — the Jazz wouldn’t have believed it.
Believe it, Utah.
The Jazz destroyed the Portland Trail Blazers 112-91 during a Northwest Division matchup Wednesday at the Rose Garden.
Utah (33-30) will make the playoffs if it wins its final three games. All are at home, where the Jazz are 22-8 this season. Two are against teams — Portland, Orlando — missing big-name All-Stars. And a contest against Phoenix next Tuesday is shaping up as the make-or-break matchup for the Jazz’s season.
Minutes after downing the Blazers (28-35), Utah’s locker room was as proud and strong as it’s been all year. Al Jefferson sang. Paul Millsap laughed and teased. Gordon Hayward smiled and slapped a low-five. All the while, Harris quietly but confidently talked about his game.
He discussed his mid-career resurgence. The improved 3-point shot he worked on throughout the lockout. A team that’s believed in itself since December, weathered injuries and losing streaks, and emerged to finally be within sight of the postseason.
"I’ve got a better feel of when to be effective and how to be aggressive and when I kind of need to defer to the other guys, and I think we’re doing a great job of really doing that lately," said Harris, who scored a game-high 27 points in just 29 minutes and 37 seconds.
Twenty-five of Harris’ points were recorded during the first half, and he set a career high by sinking six 3s. There was a step-back 3, a pull-up 3, transition 3s and even a heat check late in the first half, when Utah led 57-39 against an injury-depleted Portland squad that was limited to just nine active players.
Harris was the best player on the court until garbage time, when Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin was able to rest his starters one game after it took Utah three overtimes to down Dallas.
And the same player who spent January lost — struggling in the Jazz’s system, outplayed by backup Earl Watson, acknowledging the game had become a challenge — outshot everyone in uniform.
"[Harris is] coming around," Corbin said. "I think he’s turned the corner being aggressive. He’s doing a great job for us."
For one night, Utah’s work was finished the right way.
The Jazz walked off the hardwood ahead of Houston, then Phoenix fell to Oklahoma City. While Harris was discussing his improved touch — elbow in, smooth follow-through — Utah moved a half-game ahead of the Rockets and Suns. The Jazz hold a tiebreaker against Houston. And while Phoenix holds the same against Utah, the Jazz can erase the advantage by downing the Suns next Tuesday.
"We’ve still got three more to go," Jefferson said. "We’ve done everything we’re supposed to do. But we’ve still got three more to go and we’ve got to finish them. There’s a lot of game to be played. Three games feel[s] like 10 right now, you know?"
Jazz forwards Derrick Favors and DeMarre Carroll bumped heads during the second half. They were cleared by doctors after the game. … Burks tied a season-high with 17 points, while Hayward added 23 on 8-of-11 shooting and hit 3 of 4 3-pointers. … Utah won’t practice Thursday and doesn’t play again until Saturday against the Magic, who’ll be without All-Star center Dwight Howard. … Ex-Utah guard Wesley Matthews scored a team-high 21 points for the Blazers.
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