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Jazz stumble against Trail Blazers in preseason opener after impressive start

Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, right, passes the ball away from Portland Trail Blazers guard Allen Crabbe during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Portland, Ore., Monday, Oct. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)
Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, right, passes the ball away from Portland Trail Blazers guard Allen Crabbe during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Portland, Ore., Monday, Oct. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)
Craig Mitchelldyer, AP

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Utah Jazz lived up to the offseason hype to begin their preseason opener Monday night at the Moda Center.

That stellar play, however, didn’t last too long.

After looking like a playoff team in the early going, the Jazz struggled to keep up with a talented and deep Portland team and suffered a 98-89 loss to the Trail Blazers.

This game gave Utah and fans an opportunity to see veteran newcomers Joe Johnson, George Hill and Boris Diaw for the first time in Jazz uniforms. It was also the first game for Dante Exum since the point guard injured his left knee while playing for the Australian national team in July 2015.

To put it kindly, the foursome had a less-than-spectacular start.

For that matter, so did the Jazz’s chemistry, shooting accuracy (41.1 percent) and ball protection (21 turnovers).

That resulted in Utah losing its early 13-2 lead to fall behind by as many as 18 points.

“We started the game, I think, very well on the defensive end and as a result got some things offensively,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “It’s going to take us a while, I think, offensively to find some cohesion. I’d like to see us guard better throughout the course of the game.”

Hill started alongside Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert and looked smooth early on, combining on a nice pick-and-roll with Favors and then scoring an open layup after making a nifty hesitation move at the top of the key.

Hill only finished with four points and three rebounds and had as many turnovers (two) as assists in just 19 minutes of action.

“It wasn’t what I planned it to be,” said Hill, who was traded to Utah from Indiana to be the starting point guard this offseason. “I feel like as a leader I can be a lot better than what I was today offensively and defensively. It was game one. We’re not going to think too much into it.”

Johnson, the first Jazz player off the bench, missed three of four shots and also had two turnovers in 12 minutes. Diaw didn’t score on 0-of-2 shooting, didn’t grab a rebound and acquired three fouls in 15 minutes.

Snyder isn’t too worried about the veterans' play.

“It’s going to take a while. It’s the first week. What we do offensively there’s some wrinkles and some complexity to it, but they’ll get there,” Snyder said. “I feel like as that cohesion and knowledge of the system develops I’d like to see us be more focused on the defensive end while that’s happening.”

Exum, who hasn’t played on an NBA court since the end of his rookie season in April 2015 because of his surgery last September, was on the court for 17 minutes in this loss. The 6-foot-6 playmaker connected on a couple of 3-pointers and added three rebounds and a pair of assists.

The 21-year-old wasn’t as aggressive offensively as he and the Jazz would like. Exum called his NBA re-entry “a shaky one” but added that he still has confidence in his game.

“It was a frustrating one for me, but I think it was good just to get out on the court and get a run in. That was the most important thing,” Exum said. “We’ll look at film tomorrow and see what I can do better because there’s a lot of stuff I can improve on.”

There were some bright spots for the Jazz in this disappointing debut.

Returning veterans Gordon Hayward (17 points), Derrick Favors (14 points, nine rebounds, two blocks) and Rudy Gobert (10 points, 13 rebounds) each had strong moments.

This game also featured a Weber State reunion for Damian Lillard and Jazz rookie Joel Bolomboy.

Lillard looked as strong as ever, scoring 16 points with five assists, while Bolomboy, the Jazz’s late second-round pick, scored his first NBA preseason points and added two rebounds.

NOTES: Last week, Jazz captain Gordon Hayward said the team would talk about what the players would do during the pregame national anthem to show unity and encourage civil equality. Players lined up side by side as usual but instead of putting their hands on hearts, the Jazz guys wrapped their arms around their teammates’ shoulders. "As a group, we really talked about it. Everyone has different opinions and feelings," Hill said. "We just wanted to all be together and embrace each other because that’s what we think the world really needs is unity and togetherness." … Jazz guard Alec Burks did not play as he continues to rehab from his knee surgery in June. It’s not certain when he’ll be cleared to participate in full-contact practices. … Utah travels to Phoenix to play the Suns in their second preseason game Wednesday.

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