Morning links: Jazz crack top 5 in ESPN Power Rankings; Lillard carries Blazers on second-half surge

In his latest NBA Power Rankings for ESPN, Marc Stein had the Utah Jazz moving up two spots to No. 5.

After talking about Utah’s rough road trip, he wrote, “There is also growing concern in the SLC that neither Derrick Favors nor Rodney Hood will be able to shake the knee injuries that have plagued them; all season in Favors’ case and for the past two months in Hood’s. The Jazz are 9-6 in their past 15 games as they try to cling to the West’s No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.”

He then turned his attention to Gordon Hayward, saying, “this team, more than ever, seems to go as Gordon Hayward goes. Utah’s lone All-Star is averaging 23.8 PPG on .494 shooting (.451 on 3s) in those past nine wins. In those past six losses, Hayward is averaging 12.5 ppg and shooting just 32.5 percent from the field (.333 on 3s).”

The only teams ahead of the Jazz in the rankings were the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Lillard carries Blazers on second-half surge

Tim Cato of SB Nation looked at the recent play of Damian Lillard and how he leading the Portland Trail Blazers on a late playoff push.

After talking about Lillard’s huge game on Sunday, Cato wrote, “Since the All-Star break, where Lillard was ‘snubbed’ once again by coaches and missed the game, Lillard is averaging 31.2 points on 49 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent on shots behind the three-point arc.”

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