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Joe Ingles of the Utah Jazz contests a shot by Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
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Tired Jazz Go Cold Against Trail Blazers, Face Must-Wins

Joe Ingles of the Utah Jazz contests a shot by Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz fell to the Portland Trail Blazers 105-98 in their final regular-season home game of the year.

Jordan Clarkson scored 29 points off the bench to lead the Jazz but the team struggled to score over the final three quarters of the game scoring just 67 points after a 31 point first quarter.

Damian Lillard scored 30 points for Portland while CJ McCollum added 26 as the Trail Blazers maintained their spot in the fifth seed in the Western Conference with the win.

Jazz Look Worn Out Against Blazers

While every team in the NBA is running on fumes with the condensed regular season coming to a close, the Jazz have looked particularly exhausted in their last two losses to the Golden State Warriors and the Trail Blazers.

After jumping out to a 31-24 lead in the first quarter, the Jazz scored just 25 points in the second quarter, 20 in the third, and had scored just nine points through the first 9:30 of the fourth quarter before Quin Snyder waived the white flag and subbed in the team’s deep bench.

The Jazz shot just 3-12 with the regular rotation players on the floor in the fourth quarter, with non-Clarkson players shooting just 1-9.

“When the ball doesn’t go in, it has an impact on you,” Snyder said of his team’s energy level. “That’s something that we always talk about trying to play through that and keep attacking.”

The reason for the fatigue is clear, in addition to a long season coming to an end, the Jazz have been without All-Stars Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell for the last nine games.

Over the last four games, Bojan Bogdanovic’s minutes per game have climbed from 30.8 minutes to 35.3. Rudy Gobert’s have climbed from 30.2 to 32.9, Clarkson’s have climbed from 26.6 to 32.8, and Joe Ingles have climbed from 27.8 to 31.9.

All four players again eclipsed the 30-minute mark against Portland, with no relief in sight over the final two games of the season.

Jazz Go Cold Against Portland

Traditionally, one of the first things to abandon a tired team is the shooting, as legs get heavy and shots come up short.

That appeared to be the case against the Trail Blazers as the Jazz connected on just 12-40 from the three-point line for 30 percent.

Georges Niang was the Jazz’s most effective shooter connecting on 3-6 from deep, but the rest of the team combined to shoot just 9-34 for 26 percent.

Bogdanovic shot 0-5 from deep while Royce O’Neale was 0-3 for the starters. Trent Forrest, Miye Oni, and Matt Thomas shot just 2-8 off the bench as the Jazz had their eighth-worst shooting performance of the season.

The Jazz defense played well, holding Portland to just 105 points, but didn’t make enough baskets to punish the stretches of stagnant offense from the Trail Blazers.

“105 points against a team that has been number one offensively over the last 10-15 games, we did a good job overall,” Bogdanovic said. “But we couldn’t hit any shots, unfortunately.”

Two Must-Win Games Ahead

The Jazz still control their own destiny to finish the regular season with the top seed in the West but need to play mistake-free basketball the rest of the way if they want t guarantee themselves the best record in the NBA.

The Phoenix Suns trail the Jazz by just 1.5 games in the standing with five total games left in the season between the two teams.

The Jazz need any combination of two wins, or two Suns losses should they hope to win the West.

While the Jazz will finish the season on the road in Oklahoma City on Friday and Sacramento on Sunday, the Suns will host the Trail Blazers on Thursday before facing the San Antonio Spurs in back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday.

The Spurs will almost surely be locked into the 10th and final play-in seed by the time they face the Suns and won’t need to play starters in either game.

That means Thursday’s matchup against the Trail Blazers is the Jazz best chance to get outside help in the form of a Suns loss.

Otherwise, the Jazz will have to beat the Thunder who have lost 22 of their last 23 games, and the Kings who have won six out of their last seven.

The Jazz have a good opportunity to finish the season on top of the West, but they’ll have to play better than they did against Portland to lock it up.

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