Trail Blazers close disappointing season with narrow loss to Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — Jeremy Evans hasn't been spotted much since winning the NBA Slam Dunk title.

On Thursday night, in a game that was more about pride, Evans put on another show as he fueled a 10-0 fourth-quarter run to lead the playoff-bound Utah Jazz to their fifth straight win, 96-94 over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Evans scored a season-high 13 points, including a pair of high-flying jams as Utah retook the lead in the fourth. He added a career-high 10 rebounds and three blocks for his first career double-double.

"It was crazy," said Evans, who averages just 6.8 minutes a game but played 28 in the regular-season finale. "I always want to come out and play with energy.

"(People) say it's meaningless that it really didn't matter if we lost or won, but you still wanted to win the game, just for my sake and the team's sake."

Rookie Alec Burks led the Jazz with a career-high 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting as coach Tyrone Corbin played his starters sparingly. He sat out versatile forward Paul Millsap as a precautionary measure because of a sore groin.

Wesley Matthews had a chance to win it for Portland but his 3-pointer missed with 2.4 seconds left.

Matthews thought he was fouled on the shot but didn't get the call.

"It was a tough call at the end, but with the refs you have to respect it," said Portland forward J.J. Hickson, who led the Blazers with 20 points and nine rebounds.

Matthews, the only Blazer to play every game this season, said it was another game that got away. He cited Utah's 16-8 edge on second-chance points, and 48-36 advantage on the boards.

"We played well enough to win it. We just didn't get enough rebounds. That's the story of this year. We didn't do just enough to get over the hump," said Matthews, who finished with 14 points.

Jonny Flynn added 18 points for the injury-depleted Blazers, who didn't qualify for the postseason for the first time since the 2007-08 season.

While Portland will try to forget about the disappointing season, Utah moves on to face top-seeded San Antonio in a first-round Western Conference matchup starting Sunday.

Corbin figured Thursday's game would be relaxed after a tense stretch run that saw the Jazz finally clinch the final playoff spot with a win Tuesday over Phoenix.

But he wanted to rest key players, and give other guys coming back from injury a chance to find their rhythm.

Small forward Josh Howard did that, scoring 12 points and grabbing six rebounds in his most extensive action for Utah since undergoing knee surgery in late March.

Corbin has said he would consider reinserting Howard into the starting lineup again if he played well and had no setbacks.

On Thursday, Evans took advantage of his extensive time to showcase his skills.

Al Jefferson, who scored five points but played just 10 minutes for the Jazz, enjoyed his front-row seat.

"It was good to get out there, get loose a bit and let the young guys play and pull the game out," Jefferson said.

They did against the Blazers, a shell of what they once were. They finished on a seven-game losing streak.

"It definitely has been a challenging year for us," interim coach Kaleb Canales said.

Portland's season started with the retirement of All-Star guard Brandon Roy and another injury to former No. 1 overall draft pick Greg Oden, and was interrupted by several major trades, the firing of coach Nate McMillan and injuries to top players such as LaMarcus Aldridge.

While Portland figures out how to shake off one of the most disappointing seasons in recent history, the Jazz appear headed in the right direction after crumbling down the stretch last year following the abrupt retirement of Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan and trade of superstar point guard Deron Williams.

Ironically, an April 2 meeting in Portland helped Utah turn its season around. The Jazz were down 14 in the first half when Corbin inserted his Big Three lineup — with 6-10 Derrick Favors playing alongside 6-10 center Jefferson and the 6-8 Millsap moving to small forward.

The trio sparked a 19-point turnaround that has Corbin relying on it more and more, and even considering using it to start games.

Favors made only his ninth start of the season Thursday in place of Millsap, but in the first 12 minutes, had eight points, five rebounds, a block, assist and highlight-reel dunk. He would finish with 15 points and five rebounds.

"However you get the win you have to take it," Favors said. "It's (been) an amazing week for us."

In the second quarter, the Blazers used an 11-4 run to tie the score at 27 behind Kurt Thomas and Flynn.

Jazz reserves brought Utah back, with NBA D-League call-up Blake Ahearn and Evans scoring five apiece in the quarter as Utah took a 47-40 lead into the break.

In the fourth, Portland led 88-84 before Utah went on a 10-0 run. Howard tied it at 88 on a 5-foot bank shot with 5:18 remaining, and Evans' high-flying jams putting Utah up 94-88.

Now Utah is headed to the playoffs under a coach not named Sloan for the first time since 1988-89 when Frank Layden was in charge.

Corbin, who kept the team from fracturing when injuries and losses might have torn it apart, couldn't be happier.

Told before the game that the last time a Jazz team finished the season on a lengthy winning streak it advanced to the 1997 NBA finals, he flashed a wide grin and said, "Let's do it. Let's go to the finals."

NOTES: Utah finished the season with a 25-8 mark at home. ... Jazz SG Raja Bell returned after missing 13 games with a left knee injury. He entered with 9:29 left in the first half, mostly to cheers with a few boos. It was only his second game since a blow-up with Corbin that resulted in Bell being sent home from a road trip. He was the only Jazz player who didn't score. ... The Blazers did not play Raymond Felton (Achilles pain), Jamal Crawford (right knee tendinitis), Hasheem Thabeet or Nicolas Batum. ... The Jazz were the only team to sweep the Blazers in a four-game series this season. ... Jazz SF Howard was called for a technical in the third quarter.

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