Trail Blazers vs Nuggets Friday, 02/25/11 AT 07:30PM

Late Drought, Laker Rally Sinks Trail Blazers

  1. Written by: Grant Lucas  / avg. rating: 4.0

    It seemed like the Portland Trail Blazers picked up just where they left off before the All-Star break. With less than two minutes left in the game, they held an 87-80 lead. But an offensive drought and a Los Angeles comeback forced overtime, where the Lakers (40-19) pulled away and defeated the Trail Blazers (32-25) 105-101 on Wednesday night.

    Nicolas Batum finished an Andre Miller alley-oop feed to give Portland an 87-79 lead with 4:23 remaining in the game, but the Trail Blazers wouldn't find the bottom of the net for the rest of regulation.

    The Lakers took advantage of the drought, putting together an 8-0 rally, capped off by a Kobe Bryant bucket with less than five ticks left to knot up the score.

    Portland grabbed a 97-95 edge midway through the overtime, but a three-point play by Pau Gasol and a jumper by Bryant put Los Angeles back in front, and the Lakers would not cede that lead.

    "[The Lakers] made plays down the stretch." Head Coach Nate McMillan said. "They got stops. They took away our main option at times. When they do that, you've got to counter and get to your second option. But when you get opportunities, you've got to knock down shots. I thought we had some opportunities tonight."

    The Los Angeles victory snapped Portland's season-high six-game winning streak as well as putting an end to the 1-10 record the Lakers had at the Rose Garden in their last 11 matchups.

    LaMarcus Aldridge led the way for Portland with 29 points and 14 rebounds, but was held scoreless in the fourth quarter and overtime. Wesley Matthews and Batum chipped in with 22 points apiece, while Rudy Fernandez registered seven points, six assists and six boards off the bench.

    "They made plays," Aldridge said. "We had opportunities to make big shots to close out the game and we missed ours and they made theirs. I think that's the case. We were up, went cold, then they made big shots like they do. That's why they're a championship team."

    In his first appearance since being sidelined with a knee injury in December, Brandon Roy played just more than 15 minutes and shot 2-for-5 from the field for five points.

    "He was just trying to get into a rhythm," McMillan said. "We ran a few sets for him and he was able to do some things. But today was all about getting him out on the floor. We wanted to keep him at 15 minutes and I thought we did that and we'll slowly work him back."

    For the Lakers, Bryant paved the way with 37 points and nine boards, tallying 28 second-half points. Ron Artest posted 24 points on 5-for-6 shooting from three-point range, and Gasol added 18 points and 14 rebounds.

    "Our defense is better, there's no doubt about it," Laker coach Phil Jackson said. "I was unhappy with our turnovers, and that we haven't been able to solve that problem right now... But I think we're more purposeful as we play. I think we have a better idea of what we want to get accomplished."

    Portland finished shooting 48.1 percent, but shot just 7-for-20 in the closing quarter and missed nine free throw attempts in the game. The Lakers fired up in the second half, shooting better than 57 percent from the floor.

    "It's experience," said Lamar Odom, who finished with 13 points and four rebounds off the bench. "We just gave ourselves a chance to win by getting stops. We've been in games like this before."

    The Lakers jumped out to a 10-2 advantage, hitting four of their first seven shots, but a driving one-hand flush by Aldridge fueled a quick Portland turnaround. It sparked a 9-0 run that was capped off by a Joel Przybilla dunk off a feed from Batum.

    Leading 22-19 and with the ball, Aldridge lost it toward the sideline. Leaping over the scorer's table, Fernandez saved it toward the lane, where Aldridge dove to the floor and poked it toward Batum. Batum squared up and buried a corner three-ball, forcing a Laker timeout late in the first.

    Aldridge connected on each of his first five shots of the game, leading Portland to a 29-23 edge after the first quarter, during which the Trail Blazers shot 55 percent from the floor.

    A lay-up in the lane by Artest trimmed the Portland lead to three, but Batum's second three-pointer of the game and an Aldridge jumper gave the Trail Blazers a 39-31 advantage midway through the quarter.

    Bryant struggled from the field in the first half, sinking just four of 15 attempts for nine points. Aldridge, on the other hand, stayed hot with 8-for-10, 18-point, six-rebound first half, pacing Portland to a 47-41 lead at the break.

    The Lakers began chipping away at Portland's lead early in the third quarter, with Fisher pocketing a three-pointer and Bynum tipping in an offensive board to narrow the gap to 53-52. Kobe later canned a fallaway jumper after an inbounds pass to give the Lakers a one-point edge.

    Miller then layed in a shot in the lane, took a charge on the defensive end and found Aldridge for the oop to put Portland back on top 65-62.

    Despite allowing the Lakers a brief lead and a 5-for-7, 12-point quarter by Bryant, Portland fought back and took a 69-67 edge into the final frame thanks to 11 points and five boards by Aldridge.

    On the Trail Blazers' first possession of the fourth quarter, Roy sank a step-back shot, his first field goal since being sidelined with a knee injury in December. He would later drain a three-pointer to extend Portland's advantage to 79-71.

    With less than two minutes remaining and trailing by seven, Artest ball-faked and stepped back for a three-ball, trimming the deficit to 87-83. Bryant then hit a baseline fadeaway, followed by a 15-foot jumper to even things up with less than five seconds to go.

    With the clock winding down, Aldridge drove the lane and missed a close look, sending the game into overtime tied at 87.

    "We wanted to spread the floor," McMillan said of the final play. "That last four seconds, we knew that they would probably get some switching. The play was for LaMarcus and Rudy to play a two-man game and try and see if we could get Rudy going to the basket. If they take that away, then LaMarcus goes to the basket hard which LaMarcus saw the lane and had the drive."

    Portland missed seven attempts from the floor during its four-plus minute drought, while Bryant accounted for eight of the Lakers' 12 points during their rally.

    In the overtime, after a three by Artest, Fernandez buried another three-ball to tie it up again at 95 with less than two minutes left. On the next possession, Miller freed himself up on the baseline for the go-ahead bucket.

    On the other end, Gasol answered with an and-one lay-up that was followed up by a field goal in the lane by Bryant, putting the Lakers up 100-97 with less than thirty seconds to go.

    Aldridge earned a trip to the free throw line, disqualifying Gasol, but the big man missed both shots. Bryant flew in for the rebound, was fouled and hit a pair of free throws to increase the Los Angeles lead to five.

    Trying to receive an inbounds pass, Miller stumbled into the backcourt, turning the ball over. Bryant made two more free throws and sealed the Laker win.

    "Losing is hard," McMillan said. "You have that opportunity to win... You get opportunities going down the stretch, certainly in the fourth quarter you've got to make plays on both ends of the floor."

    Aldridge said the loss is especially tough for him, saying that he couldn't convert plays late in the game.

    "I had the ball in my hand a lot to close the game out, I missed the layup and then those two big fee throws in overtime," he said. "That was big for me. I can't do that no more."

    Portland will have a day of rest before taking on the Denver Nuggets (33-25) on Friday night at the Rose Garden.

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