Work in Sports
SALT LAKE CITY (Ticker) -- Steve Smith and Bonzi Wells are pushing Jeff Hornacek into retirement and the Portland Trail Blazers are shoving the Utah Jazz out of the playoffs.
Smith and Wells both took advantage of the limited Hornacek as the Trail Blazers moved within one win of the Western Conference finals with a 103-84 victory over the Jazz.
The bigger and deeper Blazers built a 21-point first-half lead, blew it, then regrouped to pull away in the fourth quarter and put the Jazz on the verge of the first four-game sweep in team history.
"Steve Smith started out and Bonzi Wells came in behind him and got us some big scoring opportunities," Blazers coach Mike Dunleavy said.
The 6-8 Smith did most of his damage early, scoring 14 of his 21 points in the first quarter, when Portland took the normally raucous Delta Center crowd right out of the game. He made 6-of-11 shots and added six assists.
The 6-5 Wells did most of his damage late, scoring 10 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, when the Blazers overpowered the Jazz. He made 8-of-13 shots, many of them dunks and layups.
Afterward, he said he continually gets encouragement from Smith and Portland's other veterans.
"They just told me to be patient," Wells said. "This round I've had the opportunity to go against smaller guards. I try to take everything they teach me, put it in my game and try to be successful."
"I know it's hard for a lot of young players to understand, but you're going to get you're opportunity," Dunleavy said.
"Somewhere along the way, it's going to present itself, and your job is to stay ready and give us the help we need."
The 6-4 Hornacek, one of the best shooters in NBA history, has said he is retiring after this season. Not an athletic player, he is further limited by a gimpy knee that has bothered him the last two years.
After scoring only nine points in the first two games, Hornacek finally was a factor on offense with 24 points. But he and backup Howard Eisley again had no answer for Portland's bigger guards, who are dominating this series.
"They're a deep team and it's not just on the guard line where there are mismatches," Hornacek said. "They are very good at taking advantage of their height and reach."
Portland is not too shabby in the frontcourt, either. Arvydas Sabonis scored 22 points and Rasheed Wallace added 17 as the Blazers improved to 6-1 in the postseason and can complete their first 4-0 sweep since the conference finals in 1977, the year of their only championship.
"We couldn't do anything with their post-up people," Sloan said.
"They've got so many guys that they can post up against us and we had a difficult time at this point trying to be able to deal with them."
Karl Malone had 28 points and 11 rebounds for Utah, which lost in six games to Portland in last year's conference semifinals.
The Jazz must win Game Four on Sunday to avert their first sweep in 18 seven-game series.
"I would like to sit here and tell you guys, 'Ah, no big deal, we're down 0-3' but I'd be lying to you," Malone said. "We've got our work for us in a big way and if nothing else each guy needs to look within themselves, because I don't think anbody wants to finish the season being swept."
"You're never comfortable in Utah," Portland forward Brian Grant said. "Except for the beds. The beds are real comfortable."
After tying the game in the third quarter, the Jazz trailed just 75-70 entering the final period. But Utah went cold, going more than 4 1/2 minutes without a basket.
Sabonis had a pair of hoops before Utah's Bryon Russell made two free throws. Greg Anthony hit a 3-pointer before Wells took over, making a jumper, a dunk and a layup off a lob pass -- all against Hornacek -- to extend the lead to 88-72 with 7:45 left.
Olden Polynice ended the basket drought and Malone hit a jumper, but Wells had two free throws and a slam around a 3-pointer by Hornacek to keep the advantage at 92-79 with 4:54 to go. A 3-pointer by Russell cut the deficit to 95-84 but Utah did not score again.
"I just go out there and relax and try to put the dagger in people," Wells said.
"He was very effective," Sloan said. "Anybody they had inside was effective. Whoever they put in the post was effective because whenever you try to give any help, we were kind of on roller skates."
Wells led a bench that outscored Utah's reserves, 35-2. The Blazers outscored the Jazz 28-14 in the final period despite starters Scottie Pippen and Damon Stoudamire sitting out the entire quarter.
"I feel like this team is much stronger than my Bulls' team," said Pippen, who won six championships with Michael Jordan in Chicago.
Detlef Schrempf added nine points and six rebounds for Portland, which shot 51 percent (40-of-78) and held a 46-24 advantage in points in the paint. The Blazers committed only 10 turnovers.
Russell scored 18 points and John Stockton added 12 assists for the Jazz, who shot 40 percent (28-of-70). Armen Gilliam was the only sub to score for Utah.
"These guys have to come in and buy time for us to stay out there," Sloan said of his reserves.
Hornacek scored nine points in the first quarter, matching his total for the entire series. But he could not stop Smith, who made 4-of-6 shots to help stake Portland to a 30-23 lead.
"The first two games, when we'd bang them in the post to try to get them out, they called fouls on us," Hornacek said. "Tonight they let it go a little more but ... there were quite a few times they were spinning the baseline and that's one thing we're supposed to not let happen."
Schrempf's 16-footer capped an 18-5 run that featured seven points by Wells and gave Portland its largest lead at 53-32 with 4:49 remaining in the second quarter.
However, Utah closed the first half with a 16-2 run. Hornacek made a pair of 3-pointers and Malone also scored six points as the Jazz cut the deficit to 55-49.
Utah kept pecking away and finally tied it at 59-59 on a jumper by Malone midway through the third quarter. Smith's layup with 3:46 to go put Portland ahead for good at 67-65.