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Trail Blazers drop a heartbreaker at Clippers

  1. Written by: KevinHudson  / avg. rating: 5.0

    Despite missing the services of forward LaMarcus Aldridge (left elbow sprain), the Portland Trail Blazers battled through a tight, back-and-forth contest in Los Angeles, but couldn't find the winning bucket as time expired at the Staples Center Friday, falling 98-97 to the Clippers.

    Wesley Matthews received the inbound pass on the right wing with five seconds to play, then drove into the paint and extended upward with a left-handed floater that sailed wide as the game ended, sealing the narrow margin for the Clippers.

    "We can’t focus on one play," said Portland coach Kaleb Canales. "We just didn’t make enough basketball plays down the stretch and they did."

    Portland (24-28) had taken the lead 97-96 on Jamal Crawford's high-arcing 22-foot jumper with 13.9 to play, only to see Chris Paul drive the lane for a layup on the other end, setting up the Trail Blazers final attempt.

    Los Angeles (30-21) led from late in the second quarter until midway through the fourth, when the Trail Blazers built a 9-2 run on a trio of dunks by JJ Hickson and a three-point strike from Raymond Felton for a 89-83 Portland lead.

    The Clippers fought back over the final four minutes to within two points at 95-93. Hickson then failed to extend Portland's lead by missing a pair of free throws, allowing Randy Foye to respond with a deep three-pointer to recapture the lead for Los Angeles, 96-95.

    "Those two big free throws down the stretch, nobody can convert them but me. I take the fall for this one but the whole team played great," Hickson said. "Our coaching staff came up with a great game and we just didn’t execute it down the stretch."

    Hickson, in the starting lineup in Aldridge's absence, finished with a game-high 29 points and 13 rebounds as the Trail Blazers outrebounded the Clippers 36-31.

    "I thought J. J. [Hickson] was terrific. We are excited to have him and we believe in him," Canales said. "We have talked about the process with him, getting him more comfortable, but we are excited about him going forward."

    Nicolas Batum was next for Portland with 18 points, six rebounds and Crawford added 14 points off the bench as the Portland reserves outscored their Los Angeles counterparts 29-14.

    Foye, Paul and Blake Griffin led Los Angeles with 20 points each, Griffin adding 13 rebounds and Paul 14 assists as six Clippers scored in double figures.

    Portland returns home to face the Minnesota Timberwolves Sunday, 6 p.m., at the Rose Garden. The game can be seen locally on Comcast SportsNet and nationally on NBA TV. 750 AM The Game and NBA Audio League Pass will have the play-by-play call.

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