PORTLAND, Ore. — Friday night's game against Portland will be a good measuring stick for Trey Burke.
It’s been two months since the 2013 NCAA player of the year had his first matchup with the reigning NBA rookie of the year.
Former Weber State star Damian Lillard won that first battle, and it wasn’t close.
During the preseason game in Boise, the Blazers’ point guard scored 23 points with five assists in Portland’s 96-86 win.
Burke only scored seven points on 3-for-10 shooting with five assists.
“It was OK,” Burke said when asked to rate his first game against Lillard. “I think I was still getting into a rhythm, still trying to find my flow out there, but it definitely wasn’t my best game.”
The next night in Utah, Burke fractured his right index finger against the Clippers. He then had surgery and spent a month and a half rehabbing before making his NBA debut two weeks ago.
Burke has improved since that Nov. 20 game against New Orleans, and he’s excited to be able to gauge how far he’s come since playing Lillard two months ago.
“I think I’ve come a long ways since then,” Burke said. “Just from picking up the offense, knowing where guys are supposed to be and just having that feel for the game, it’s starting to come along. I think I’m a much better player.”
Burke has ultimate respect for Lillard, who’s averaging 20.2 points and 5.7 rebounds for the 16-3 Blazers.
“He’s rookie of the year last year. He’s a really good player,” Burke said. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge. I’m looking forward to going up against him.”
Burke, who’s reset his career high in assists (nine) the past two games, admits that he would love to follow Lillard’s lead in being named the NBA’s best newcomer.
“It’s a goal that I think about at times,” Burke said. “But it’s not something that I’m really stressing over. I’m just trying to play my game.”
That formula has worked out quite well for Burke, who's averaging 12.6 points, 4.1 assists and 3.3 rebounds while sparking Utah's once-lifeless offense.
Sixers point guard Michael Carter-Williams (17.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 5.8 rpg, 3.1 spg) is the early front-runner for the 2014 rookie of the year. Other top candidates include Orlando’s Victor Oladipo (13.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and Kings’ Ben McLemore (9.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg).
“That’s just putting extra unnecessary pressure on yourself,” Burke said. “It’s obviously a goal. You always want to play good, especially as a rookie when you have expectations. I’ve played better when I just go out there freely and don’t even think about it and play the game.”
WILLIAMS OUT: The Jazz, who’ve won three of five games after losing 14 of their first 15, will be without one of their top-performing players this season. Forward Marvin Williams, who’s provided good minutes in a “stretch-four” power forward role, did not travel to Portland after missing the Indiana game with a bruised right heel.
Williams will be re-evaluated when the team returns.
“Knowing Marvin, he wants to go on the trip and he wants to help us,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “The best thing for us to do for him right now is to let it (his heel) calm down, so he can get back and be back for a while.”
Williams underwent surgery in June to repair damage in his right Achilles tendon, but the Jazz forward said this pain is in a different spot on his foot.
FEELING BETTER: The Jazz will get their best shooter back for this Portland game. Forward Jeremy Evans, who leads the squad with a .722 field goal percentage, practiced Thursday after staying home with the flu Wednesday night.
“I wouldn’t wish it on nobody,” Evans said of the illness that kept him at home for a couple of days this week.
Evans was happy to have his energy back in time for Thursday’s practice. He was ready to return to his team after being forced to watch the loss to the Pacers on his TV at home.