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Trail Blazers Comeback Falls Short in 102-98 Loss To Suns

  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 4.0


    The Trail Blazers (25-29) fell victim to a poor defensive start to the game and could never quite recover as they eventually lost 102-98. The Phoenix Suns (18-36) were able to hold off a late Portland run in the final minutes to win the game. JJ Hickson scored 25 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in the loss, his third 25-point, 15-rebound game of the year. Hickson is one of four players in the NBA with two games of 25-plus points and 15-plus rebounds along Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard and Zach Randolph.

    The Trail Blazers had gone 17 days without a game in their beloved home confines and the players and coaches all seemed glad to be home. We'd seen this movie before a little over two months ago with these Trail Blazers, as they returned from their longest road trip of the season to face a lowly Kings team. The Kings got hot early and the Trail Blazers' comeback was derailed by injuries and poor play. Tonight they made it a game, but the intensity from before tip-off wasn't what it needed to be with a team suffering a five-game losing streak and one with playoff aspirations.

    Terry Stotts laid out the first half struggles.

    "It's very disappointing with the defense in the first half. Obviously the slow start, getting down 12-0, had a lot to do with the first half. We game up 63 points in the first half and 60 percent shooting. We can't afford to do that" he stated.

    JJ Hickson, whose intensity throughout the game helped buoy the Trail Blazers on the offensive end and on the glass, was frustrated to let down the home fans who hadn't seen them at the Rose Garden in over two weeks.

    "It's tough losing any game. Whether you've lost six in a row or you lose one or lose five or lose eleven. It's tough losing, especially at home. We know this crowd is definitely out sixth man."

    The sixth man was far too quiet for much of the evening, as they weren't given much of a reason to cheer. The Trail Blazers lack of intensity on defense was tough.  They missed lay-ups in the early going and couldn't get their jumpers to fall until later on in the game. But where the Trail Blazers got pummeled the most was on the glass. The Suns held a +14 rebound advantage and Jermaine O'Neal collected 13 rebounds off the bench, five of them offensive. Goran Dragic was slicing and dicing his way through the defense and had 10 assists after the first quarter. He would finish with 16 points and 18 assists.

    In the second half, the Trail Blazers put the clamps on the Suns, forcing them into 37 percent shooting and holding them to 39 points, three more points than they scored in just the first quarter. The intensity that was absent before the game and in the first half was finally there again. With a couple of stops, a few buckets by Hickson and Lillard were followed up by another stop and a corner three by Victor Claver to cut the deficit from 17 to 11. The Suns would keep them right there as they held the 11 point lead going into the fourth.

    In the fourth quarter, the Trail Blazers looked to flip the script. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 11 points and a Nicolas Batum (15 points, five assists, five rebounds) three-pointer cut the lead to five at the 2:33 mark. The Trail Blazers were unable to execute in the final two minutes as the Batum three-pointer was their last made shot of the night. Aldridge hit two free-throws with 20.5 left to cut the lead to two. The man that set the tone for the night finished it off however as Dragic made two-free throws to ice the game as Portland was unable to make a late three to play the free-throw game one more time.

    After their sixth-straight loss, the questions came to the Trail Blazers players and Stotts about whether their season is slipping away.

    "No. We have 28 games to go. Nothing is slipping away. We've got the Lakers on Friday and we've got to go play," said Stotts.

    Defense was emphasized by Nicolas Batum as something the Trail Blazers must improve as well as their tendency to fall behind and claw back.

    The attitude from the Trail Blazers is that they aren't giving up on their chances just yet.

    "We are going to fight every game," Victor Claver said. "Our only option is to go out and try to do that. The objective is to compete every game and fight for it. When you lose, you've got to find the solutions. This team has demonstrated the whole season that we want to fight."

    Lillard called tonight a "punching bag loss," as time ran out on their comeback, giving him the feeling of frustration to want to hit a bag. He sees a "window of opportunity" for the playoffs slowly closing. Amid questions about the tough schedule and their outlook going forward Lillard, as expected, is focused only on Portland's next task.

    "All I know is our next game is against the Lakers (25-29)."

    After six straight losses, their grasp on having a chance at the final two playoff spots keeps on slipping. With a team that's had so many improbable wins, it seems quite fitting that at a low point, they travel to the City of Dreams. We saw tonight's movie before, but Hollywood gives the Trail Blazers a shot to flip the script and revive their season.

    That game will be shown on CSNNW with tip-off at 7:30. It can also be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.

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