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  • 13 Jul 2014

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Same story, different verse for Blazers

Bill Murray and Andie McDowell were nowhere near the Rose Garden Saturday night, but it seemed as if they were to Terry Stotts.

“It’s kind of a ‘Groundhog’s Day,’ “ said the Trail Blazers’ first-year coach, calling out the classic comedy film. “We get down, battle back and put ourselves in position to win ... then we’ve lost the last few games.”

A season-high five in a row, in fact, after Saturday’s 110-104 setback to Milwaukee that dropped Portland’s record to 20-20.

Following their recent pattern, the Blazers fell behind big early (30-12), rallied (from a 22-point third-quarter deficit) and closed with a rush (to within four points in the final minute) before falling short.

“We have had a trend of that lately,” said Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge, who notched his 18th double-double of the season with 20 points and 14 rebounds. “We have to figure out how to shake it.

“We always start a little slow and find a way to come back. If we have a better start, we won’t have to fight so hard to come back.”

Brandon Jennings scored 30 points, including four free throws in the final 33 seconds, and

Ersan Ilyasova collected a season-high 27 points and tied a season high with 14 rebounds for the Bucks (20-18), who are 5-2 under interim head coach Jim Boylan.

Damian Lillard scored 26 points and dished out 10 assists for the Blazers, who last lost five straight at the end of the 2011-12 season, which they closed on a seven-game skid.

The Blazers were careless in the beginning, turning the ball over eight times in the first nine minutes, due in no small part to seven Milwaukee steals. Portland trailed 30-19 after one quarter and 62-45 at the half.

“The game got away from us again in the first quarter,” Stotts said. “That was a bad stretch for us. But the second quarter wasn’t much better. We can’t give up 30 and 32 in back-to-back quarters.”

Portland was behind 75-53 midway through the third quarter, when the slow climb began. The Bucks’ advantage was 80-59 when Portland — thanks in part to a pair of technical fouls and the ejection of Milwaukee center Larry Sanders by referee Danny Crawford — went on an 11-0 run to get within 80-70 late in the quarter. Lillard’s running 3-pointer as time expired cut the margin to 84-76 entering the final period.

The Bucks opened the fourth quarter with a 7-0 run to go on top 91-76 with 9:30 remaining.

It was 104-90 with 3:30 left, but Wesley Matthews’ 3-pointer finished a 10-0 run that drew the Blazers to within 104-100 with 44.7 seconds left.

After a Milwaukee turnover and a Portland timeout, the Blazers inbounded the ball in frontcourt with 33.6 seconds to go. Aldridge went to the floor as he worked around a pick and dove to the basket, with Nicolas Batum’s pass sailing out of bounds and the Blazers crying “foul,” but no call.

“As I cut to the block, (Milwaukee’s Ekpe Udoh) stepped on my foot and I tried to grab the ball and I couldn’t,” Aldridge said. “I fell and they didn’t call it. I think that was a bad call.”

“We’d have been shooting two free throws with the possibility of getting to within two (points), knowing we’d get the ball back,” Stotts said. “That was unfortunate, to say the least.”

Jennings hit four of six free throws on Milwaukee’s next three possessions to cinch the win. He dished out eight assists and was 9 for 20 from the field and 12 for 15 from the line in his 37 minutes.

“He showed tonight where he belongs,” Boylan said. “That was an all-star performance right there.”

Portland had won four in a row and 12 of 15 before hitting its current skid.

“We got out to a good start to January, played good basketball,” said Batum, who had seven points, seven rebounds and five assists as he played with a sore right wrist. “Now, I don’t know why, we relaxed a little bit. We aren’t playing the way we played the previous two weeks. We have to get back quickly to where we were before, starting Monday” against Washington.

Portland has played nine straight games decided by six points or fewer, a franchise record. The Blazers won the first four and have lost the last five. Prior to the last five games, Portland was 5-0 in overtime games and 11-2 in games decided by six points or fewer. Now those numbers are 5-1 and 11-7.

“It worked for a few times,” Batum said. “It was fun, but it can’t work every time.

“We have to take care of the ball and we have to be more focused on defense. We can’t let a team score 60 points in the first half on us at home. We can’t get down 20 in the first half every time. That’s on us. It’s the starters’ job, not on the bench. It’s myself, L.A., J.J (Hickson), Wes (Matthews) and Damian. Our job.”

NOTES — Monday night’s game against Washington is Portland’s third on a five-game homestand. ... Lillard had a statistical standoff with Jennings at point guard, collecting 26 points (9 for 21 from the field, 5 for 6 from the line) and 10 assists for his sixth double-double of the season. ... Hickson had 15 points and 12 rebounds, his 23rd double-double, ranking him third in the NBA in that category. ... Matthews scored 21 points but was 8 for 18 from the field, including 1 for 8 on 3-point attempts. ... Batum, who was 1-for-8 shooting in the first half and finished 2-for-9, said he injured his wrist while dunking in practice on Friday. “It bothers me when I shoot or when I catch the ball,” he said. “I’ll get treatment (Sunday) and we’ll see” about playing Monday. ... Rookie center Meyers Leonard returned to Portland’s active roster but did not play after missing the last 10 games with a sprained ankle. “He was able to go but wasn’t 100 percent,” Stotts said. “I want to give him a couple of more days. Joel (Freeland) has been in the rotation. I gave him the first shot. (Leonard) will probably play in Monday’s game. The way (Saturday’s) game evolved, with us getting down and having to play Luke (Babbitt) at the 4 and spreading the court, there weren’t any minutes for (Leonard), anyway.” ... Said Leonard: “I won’t be 100 percent for a while. I don’t have all my explosion.” ... Portland guard Elliot Williams, who has missed the entire season following Achilles’ tendon surgery, is progressing well in rehab. “I went to a doctor in L.A. a week ago and he said I was ahead of schedule,” Williams said. “Right now, I’m strengthening the calf muscles. (Doctors) won’t let me run until my left leg is as strong as my right. That’ll probably be three weeks or so.” Can he come back this season? “It depends on how my leg feels,” Williams said. “I don’t want to rush anything. I’m going to try the best I can to get stronger, but I want to be 100 percent.”

... With 3:08 left in the third quarter, and Milwaukee leading 80-65, Milwaukee center Sanders — the NBA’s shot-block leader — got two technical fouls and was ejected by referee Crawford. Without Sanders, the Bucks’ advantage inside was sorely compromised. Boylan removed Ersan Ilyasova — who had 27 points and 14 rebounds to that point — from the game and didn’t insert him again except for 14 seconds in the final minute of play. “For defensive purposes, mainly, especially with Sanders out,” Boylan explained afterward, adding with a wry smile, “I was the only one who could stop him tonight.” ... Ilyasova sank 10 of 14 shots — including 3 of 3 from 3-point range — and played only 26 minutes. He defended Hickson but was guarded by Aldridge most of the time when he was in the game. The Bucks “had a lot of misdirection plays for him,” Aldridge said. “He knocked down shots all night and crashed the boards pretty hard. I was surprised he didn’t play more tonight, but he played great.” ... Boylan was a member of Stotts’ staff in Atlanta, but they go further back as teammates on a touring Spain out of college. “I was playing poorly and I remember Jim telling me, ‘Quit trying to give them your ‘A’ moves. Just give them your ‘B’ moves,’ “ Stotts said with a laugh. ... Stotts on Boylan: “You knew he was going to be a coach. He saw the game from a coach’s perspective. He’s an outstanding basketball mind, an X’s and O’s guy, and he communicates well with players.” ... Aldridge was 10 for 10 from the foul line. ... Milwaukee scored 27 points off of 19 Portland turnovers.