The Utah Jazz went into the All-Star break on a roll. Now they’ll try to pick up where they left off as they go for their seventh straight win in a road matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.
Utah (35-17) beat Cleveland 99-98 on Wednesday and entered the break with the third-best record in the NBA, behind Western Conference rivals Dallas and Phoenix. The Jazz’s winning streak is their second-longest of the season, behind an eight-game run from Nov. 10-24.
Deron Williams scored a career-high 33 points and had 12 assists against the Cavs, while Gordan Giricek held Cleveland star LeBron James to 1-for-5 shooting in the fourth quarter. Coach Jerry Sloan often sits Giricek, not known for his defense, during the fourth quarter, but played him for the entire final period Wednesday.
“There’s times where I maybe should have played him a little bit more,” Sloan said. “I stuck with him tonight because I thought he was doing a fairly decent job.”
Mehmet Okur, who represented Utah at the All-Star game as an injury replacement, scored 11 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter. Teammate Carlos Boozer was selected to play in the All-Star game but pulled out because of a hairline fracture in his leg that has caused him to miss seven games.
Boozer leads the Jazz with 22.1 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, but they are 6-1 without him. That’s due in large part to Okur, who ranks second on the team with 18.2 points and 7.4 boards and has scored in double figures in 19 straight contests.
Okur has averaged 25.0 points per game during Utah’s winning streak.
“I think it’s well deserved,” teammate Matt Harpring told Utah’s official Web site of Okur’s selection. “He’s playing great basketball; he’s really worked hard this year. He’s definitely the go-to guy on our team.”
The Jazz have won five straight against the Trail Blazers (22-32) since a 100-82 defeat in Portland on April 17, 2005. Utah beat the Blazers 96-86 at home Dec. 30 in the teams’ only meeting this season.
Zach Randolph, who leads Portland with 24.0 points and 10.2 rebounds, had 34 points and 13 boards in the loss.
“They’ve got players,” Randolph said after that contest. “Deron at the point, and Mehmet shooting the ball, they’ve got a complete team. Boozer is a tough player. They’re going to be real good, a playoff team.”
Despite his impressive numbers, Randolph was left off the All-Star team. He had 28 points and 10 rebounds in Wednesday’s 103-91 loss to Orlando after totaling just 27 points in his previous two games.
“Sure, it hurts,” Randolph said of the All-Star snub. “But right now it’s all about us winning and getting better as a team. That’s what’s driving me.”
The Blazers entered the break with one more win than they had all of last season, when they went an NBA-worst 21-61.
Rookie guard Sergio Rodriguez, who has missed the last seven games with an injured ankle, is expected to return against the Jazz.