In their final home preseason game before the regular season begins, the Utah Jazz came out looking to continue fine-tuning a young roster against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers brought back two former Jazz players and Weber State alum Damian Lillard which helped bring a great atmosphere to a preseason game.
The Jazz had a few bright spots on Monday night, and the brightest on offense was center Enes Kanter who finished the night with 23 points. The Jazz big man owned the first quarter connecting on 8-9 from the field to score 16 of the Jazz 27 points. He added three offensive boards and played the entire first quarter without committing a foul.
His fortune turned in the second and third quarter when he committed five fouls in 13:28 on the court. The fifth was a questionable moving screen set on former Jazz guard Mo Williams and it put Kanter on the bench with 2:45 in 3rd quarter and returned with 5:16 in the fourth.
Kanter wasn’t eager to speak on the issue. “I don’t want to say anything about it because I mean it’s the ref’s call,” he said. “I just have to be more careful for now.”
Kanter finished 10-15 from the field and went 3-4 from the charity stripe. He gave two reasons for the powerful performance: his teammates and coaches helping boost his confidence and the fact that he’s beginning to feel like himself after six months rehabbing his shoulder this off-season.
“Enes is a big body down there,” head coach Ty Corbin said. “Get the ball to him in his spots and we feel very good about him making the right moves in the post to be able to score. He can create space for himself. He can finish close to the basket, finish after contact.”
“His position was really good for the most part, especially in the first half. He’s in rhythm and taking good shots and when he’s doing that he’s really good,” Gordon Hayward said. “We gotta make sure we can get him in those positions and find him in places he can be successful.”
While Portland has a solid inside presence with Robin Lopez and LaMarcus Aldridge, they aren’t the most stalwart defenders in the Association. Kanter’s offense was stellar tonight but did more to show potential than promise a season full of 20+ points a night on 15 shots.
The second leading scorer for the Jazz was Hayward who wasn’t as efficient as Kanter, but rounded out his stats with 20 points, seven assists, three boards, a steal and a block. His 5-16 from the field was accompanied by 10-14 at the line (the most free throw attempts for either team).
“He will have the ball in his hands a lot,” Corbin said. “To get 14 free throws is encouraging, and we want him to increase his free throw attempts this year by attacking the basket.”
With Trey Burke sidelined Hayward focused even more on facilitating for his teammates, and they noticed that much of the offense went through him.
“He does a really good job,” Kanter said. “He’s got really good ball handling and his leadership takes this team to another level.”
Hayward recognizes what Corbin and the players are expecting from him.
“(I’m) just trying to find guys in open positions,” Hayward said. “We gotta have somebody that can get into the lane and kickout and dish and get some easy buckets. We can’t ask everybody to go one-on-one all the time.”
As Kanter and Hayward shined on offense, Derrick Favors made his presence felt on the boards. He grabbed 17 rebounds in 31:29 on the floor. His ability to get rebounds exemplified the type of effort and focus Corbin said he was pleased with after the game.
As Kanter went off, Favors was able to focus on defense and patrolling the middle. He had two blocks and did well at getting up early on pick and roll defense. While 10 points from the big may seem like a tough night offensively, he did it shooting 4-7 from the field.
One other thing we learned about this Jazz team is that inexperience is deadly down the stretch. If there is such a thing as a big moment in the preseason, the Jazz squandered an opportunity tonight. Trailing by two with 2:39 on the clock Utah went five consecutive possessions without scoring. During the same stretch the Jazz called three timeouts.
As preseason play rolls on look for coaches to capitalize on teaching moments so the Jazz are as prepared as possible before the games begin counting on October 30.