Trail Blazers vs Warriors Wednesday, 04/17/13 AT 07:00PM

Trail Blazers Suffer Close, Tough Loss To Lakers

02/22/13
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    The Trail Blazers (25-30) were in a hard fought battle with the Lakers (27-29) from the opening tip off. A couple of close plays in the final minutes didn't go Portland's way and they lost in 111-107 thriller. JJ Hickson (11 rebounds) and Nicolas Batum (eight rebounds) led the Trail Blazers with 22 points apiece.

    Before the game, it was reported that Wesley Matthews, battling ankle and elbow issues on his left side, was going to play. Matthews was big in their win on Halloween and his absence was notable in the second match-up. From the very beginning, Matthews set the tone with defensive intensity as well as his shot making ability. Not to mention, Matthews' confident attitude was all over the court as ever Trail Blazers player was aggressive, a far cry from their timid play in the second match-up. He finished with 15 points, eight assists while noticeably limping all night.

    "It was good to have him back on the court," Stotts said of Matthews. "I don't know what his line was but he makes a difference for us defensively and offensively. His three-point shooting we missed and we missed his toughness."

    Matthews play and emotion made a difference. But another huge difference between their last visit to the Staples Center was the play of Batum and Hickson. Batum hit a three-pointer and was attacking the glass on both ends. Hickson was dominated by Howard in the second meeting. Howard was fantastic in the first half of this game but Hickson answered him and battled him on both ends.

    The Lakers were bringing it as well. Howard set the tone scoring 15 points and eight rebounds. The Trail Blazers bench held their own and Meyers Leonard had one of his more productive stretches of the year, scoring four points and grabbing four rebounds. The Trail Blazers were able to make a run to close the first half with the a two-point lead.

    The third quarter became a battle for the Trail Blazers against Kobe Bryant. All of the Trail Blazers continued to play great team basketball with Batum and Lillard leading the charge on the offensive end. Dwight Howard reaggrivated his right shoulder injury at the close of the first half and wasn't the same player offensively for the rest of the game. With Howard hurting and Steve Nash in the middle of a 2-for-11 shooting night, Bryant took over. He scored 18 of the Lakers 27 third quarter points and single-handedly kept the Lakers close with the Trail Blazers. Bryant finished with 40 points, his 117th career 40-point game.

    The Trail Blazers continued to show heart and confidence. Leonard continued to hustle off the Trail Blazers bench and Will Barton was very productive off the bench scoring five points and grabbing five rebounds including an and-1 in the fourth quarter. The game was a back-and-forth affair all night including 11 ties and 27 lead changes. No team lead by more than seven points. In a game so close, the 50/50 balls, scrums and execution become that much more important.

    The tension was turned up as Matthews and Aldridge (19 points) both were called for technical fouls in the fourth quarter. There were two replay reviews that appeared to be in favor of Portland in the final frame. Despite his team giving up 111 points, Stotts was proud of the defensive effort his players displayed.

    "For the most part it was pretty good. They (the Lakers) got to the line a lot, they got a lot of calls but I thought they (Trail Blazers) competed defensively. I thought our pick and roll defense was pretty good. Even though we gave up 111, I thought on the whole we held them to a poor shooting percentage and we did a lot of good things."

    Despite the 111 points, the Trail Blazers gave themselves a chance late. Wesley Matthews forced a Bryant turnover and gave the Trail Blazers a chance to tie it up. They ran a play to set up a post-up for Aldridge but the same turnaround that resulted in a game-winner a few weeks before against Dallas came up short. Bryant hit two free-throws and the Trail Blazers had another shot to cut the lead with 13 seconds left. The Trail Blazers ran an action to get Batum a corner three and he hit it, only that Mike Callahan overruled the original call, calling it a two. Replays that zoomed in on Batum's left foot appeared to show a sliver of space between the line and his foot. However, the refs ruled did not find conclusive evidence to overturn the call. Bryant hit two more free-throws and the Trail Blazers were unable to answer on their next play.

    Matthews' heart and presence appeared to inspire the Trail Blazers. There lots of positives. But ultimately, the Trail Blazers left the Staples Center with a tough, tough loss. One that moves them to 11th in the Western Conference and ever further from the Houston Rockets. The Trail Blazers showed heart and confidence, but the loss left Rip City heart broken. The good thing about this team is, you know they won't be.

    “I was glad the way our team fought.  We’ve had a rough stretch and came out and played aggressively, we pushed the tempo and did a lot of good things out there.  I thought we played well enough to win the game but unfortunately we didn’t,” Stotts said

    The Trail Blazers face the Boston Celtics on Sunday at 6PM. That game will be shown on CSNNW and can be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.

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