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Rookie Lillard leads the way as Trail Blazers defeat Jazz

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Associated Press
2/3/2013 12:42:24 AM
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PORTLAND, Ore. -- Portland's maligned group of reserves stepped up Saturday night, leading to one unusual scene in the Trail Blazers' locker room.

Little-used guard Nolan Smith had a season-high 13 points as the backups scored 28 points in all for their best total in more than a month, helping Portland to a 105-99 victory over the Utah Jazz.

Afterward, when a crowd of TV cameras and reporters circled Smith's locker, teammate Wesley Matthews chided the second-year guard, who has played for only 169 minutes in 23 appearances this season.

"Did L. A. switch lockers?" Matthews loudly asked, referring to the crowd that usually gathers for All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge.

Smith got his share of playing time against the Jazz in part because Matthews sat out with a sore right ankle.

"Wes is my big brother and he's the happiest guy in the locker room right now. He told me just to be myself and play basketball," Smith said.

Damian Lillard led the way with 23 points as the Trail Blazers salvaged the second half of back-to-back games between the division rivals. Utah beat Portland 86-77 on Friday night in Salt Lake City.

J.J. Hickson added 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Nicolas Batum fell just shy of this third triple-double of the season with 12 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.

But it was Smith, as well as bench players Luke Babbitt and Will Barton, who received all the accolades afterward. The Blazers led 88-83 on Smith's reverse layup with 4:59 to go. He added a 3-pointer that made it 93-87, and Portland held off the Jazz the rest of the way.

"We knew that with Wes out of the game tonight we were gonna need people to come in and step up," Lillard said. "I thought Luke did a good job of coming in and making shots and I though Nolan and Will were the keys to winning tonight."

Randy Foye had 23 points for the Jazz, who led by as many as 10 points in the third quarter.

"It was tough but I don't feel bad about it because I think we played well enough to win the game. It just didn't work out for us," said Al Jefferson, who finished with 12 points. "They had that home energy like home teams do."

Lillard, who has won NBA Rookie of the Month honours for the past three months, added eight assists in his 23rd game of the season with at least 20 points. Aldridge finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds.

"Back-to-back nights playing the same team -- it was important for us to protect home court," Lillard said.

Both teams were banged up.

Matthews rolled his right ankle in Friday night's loss to Utah. He tested himself in pregame warmups, but about 12 minutes before game time he was replaced in the starting lineup by Victor Claver.

Portland was also without backup point guard Ronnie Price, who had a sprained right ankle.

Meanwhile, Batum played despite a sore right wrist that has been bothering him for several games.

Utah guard Earl Watson left in the first quarter of Friday night's game with a sore right leg, and an MRI on Saturday showed the 12-year veteran's leg was bruised and he has a small stress fracture. It's not immediately known how long he will be out.

Gordon Hayward missed his fourth straight game for the Jazz with a strained right shoulder. And Mo Williams continues to recover from right thumb surgery.

After holding a narrow 46-43 edge at the half, the Jazz went up 60-50 in the third quarter on Foye's 3-pointer.

Babbitt's 3-pointer and Will Barton's reverse layup capped a 9-0 run by Portland that got it within one at 63-62. Lillard's 3 put the Blazers in front.

Smith's 3-pointer gave the Blazers a 79-71 lead early in the fourth quarter, but it didn't last long, and Utah tied it at 79 on Alec Burks' 3, his first field goal of the game.

NOTES: The Jazz swept the Trail Blazers 4-0 last season. ... Claver, making his seventh start of the season, played on the silver medal-winning Spanish Olympic team. ... The Jazz had just four turnovers. ... Portland's victory snapped a five-game Utah winning streak in the series. Utah leads 91-72 overall.

Damian Lillard (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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