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Blazers, Batum win a waltz

The game was slow-paced and filled with soft body shots. And so a 7-0 run by Portland at the start of the fourth quarter was pivotal.

The Trail Blazers went on to beat Philadelphia 89-85 Saturday night at the Rose Garden, raising their record to 15-14.

“We, for the most part, played a solid game without too many let-ups,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said.

Philadelphia (14-17) brought the ball up the floor slowly and worked methodically in the halfcourt.

“Philly does a nice job of dictating their tempo,” Stotts said. “It’s hard to get out and run. We tried to with our rebounding and transition, but we can only dictate half the possessions of the game.”

The 76ers were kept in the game until the fourth quarter — they trailed 70-67 after thre periods — largely because of guard Jrue Holiday, who finished a game-high 29 points.

“He made some tough shots,” Stotts said. “He hit a 3 that I thought was well contested and hit a baseline shot with one on the shot clock. He made some tough shots.”

In the fourth quarter, though, after Holiday had put up 27 points, the Blazers elected to have 6-8 forward Nicolas Batum defend him. Batum shut down the 6-4 former UCLA standout, holding him to two points and helping the Blazers grind out the victory.

“He was killing us,” said Batum, who also led Portland with 22 points. “I told Coach to let me guard him. He was posting up because he liked the size advantage. I said, ‘He won’t have it on me. He won’t post me up. So let me try to guard him.’”

Damian Lillard scored 20 points for the Blazers, LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 points and J.J. Hickson got his 10th double-double in the past 11 games, with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Hickson is tied with Dwight Howard for the third most double-doubles (18) in the NBA this season.

Thaddeus Young added 17 points for the 76ers, and Nick Young and Spencer Hawes each scored 10 points.

The Blazers pulled out to a 30-23 lead at the end of the first quarter, getting a surprise from reserve shooting guard Victor Claver, who filled in as a starter as Wesley Matthews (left hip) missed his fourth straight game. The rookie Claver, in his sixth start, scored seven of his career-high eight points in the first period.

Portland remained on top at halftime, heading into the break with a 49-40 lead.

In the third quarter, the game got even tighter. The 76ers made a run and twice pulled even with the Blazers. But Portland held on, limiting the Sixers to 18 fourth-quarter points on 7-for-25 shooting from the field.

The Blazers pushed their lead to 11, 80-69, with 7 1/2 minutes remaining. Philly closed to within 86-83 with 1:09 left, but Batum made three of four free throws down the stretch, and the 76ers missed a 3-pointer with 16 seconds to go that would have cut their deficit to two.

“We struggled to score (in the fourth quarter),” 76ers coach Doug Collins said. “We haven’t been a team that’s come back in the fourth quarter yet this year. We’ve won one game when we were behind after three (quarters), and I don’t think we’ve lost when we’re ahead. We’re a team that doesn’t get points that easy.”

With the win, Portland stayed in a tie for eighth place in the NBA Western Conference. Minnesota (14-13) and the Blazers are a half-game behind Houston (16-14) and Denver (17-15) but only a half-game ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers (15-15) and one game ahead of Utah (15-16).

The Blazers were 9-4 in December. After losing at home to Sacramento on Dec. 8, they have won seven in a row in Portland.

“We couldn’t have done much better, I don’t think,” Stotts said.

Now, the Blazers (4-10 on the road) must figure out how to win away from home and crowds like Saturday's (an announced sellout of 20,569).

Portland is entering a stretch of four road games in five days. The Blazers will play the New York Knicks Tuesday, the Toronto Raptors Wednesday, the Memphis Grizzlies Friday and the Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday.

“The road is a challenge,” Stotts said. “The road is a challenge for anyone in the NBA. We’ve got a challenge. We play four good teams, four games in five nights on the road. We need to bring it every night and come back here.”



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