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  • 21 Apr 2014

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No more streaking for Blazers

Close games have become second nature to the Trail Blazers over the past three weeks.

Win a few, lose a few more.

So imagine everyone’s surprise when Portland won a laugher, a 100-80 blowout of Indiana Wednesday night at the Rose Garden.

“We’ve played so many two-point games, tonight was kind of weird for us,” said LaMarcus Aldridge, who rained in a game-high 27 points for the Blazers. “But the guys played great.”

Portland had played a franchise-record 10 straight games that were decided by six points or fewer. The Blazers won the first four, then lost the last six.

“Tonight was refreshing, especially since we were on the good side of it,” said Portland coach Terry Stotts, who was able to remove four of his starters in the closing minutes to a rousing standing ovation. “That 10-game streak was fun basketball, but it was tough.

“We needed a win like that. We haven’t had a lot of wins like that. To have it at this stage was pretty refreshing.”

Indiana is no easy mark. The Pacers (26-17) had won 16 of their previous 21 games and are battling for homecourt advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. They entered the game leading the NBA in scoring defense (89.1 points) and opponents’ field-goal percentage (.413).

The Blazers carved them up by shooting a season-high .564 from the field against the NBA’s No. 1 defensive team. It was the best shooting percentage all season for an Indiana opponent.

“Numbers do lie, sometimes,” Portland’s J.J. Hickson said with a smile. “We knew they were a great defensive team. They pack the paint and make you shoot a lot of jumpers. We executed well on offense.”

“We were efficient offensively against the best defensive team in the league,” Stotts said. “We did a lot of good things and were very consistent with it. From start to finish, it was an effort we needed.”

Prior to the game, Indiana coach Frank Vogel fretted about Portland’s six-game skid.

“Hate playing teams on losing streaks,” he said. “I know what it’s like when we’re on a losing streak. Everybody’s a little bit edgy. Everybody’s focus is sharper. Teams on losing streaks are harder to play against than teams that aren’t. Losing is probably the best motivator there is in this game.”

Vogel seemed prescient. The Blazers were sharp offensively and effective defensively, holding the Pacers — who entered the game 28th in the league in field-goal percentage at .423 — to .375 shooting.

“Give Portland a ton of credit,” Vogel said afterward. The Blazers “came out with great desperation. It’s very difficult to play a really good team on a six-game losing streak. They brought the fight to us with their defense.”

“We knew Indiana wasn’t a fast-break team so we didn’t have to worry about transition,” said Hickson, who notched his 24th double-double of the season with 14 points and 13 rebounds. “We just kept everybody in front of us and made them shoot tough shots.”

Aldridge was good early, scoring 14 points in the second quarter to stoke a 20-4 run that produced a 44-28 lead and all but buried the Pacers.

“I made one or two and my teammates said, ‘Keep shooting it,’ “ said Aldridge, who finished 12 for 17 from the field. “And coach (Stotts) kept drawing up plays for me to take jump shots, and I kept making them.”

Said Stotts: “LaMarcus was in a groove. His mid-range game, he was on.”

Damian Lillard was the bellwether late, scoring 16 of his 20 points in the second half. The rookie point guard finished with eight assists and no turnovers in his 39 minutes, making 9 of 16 shots from the field.

“Damian reads the game,” Stotts said. “We knew with some of their pick-and-roll coverages we’d be able to set good screens and good rolls and he’d be able to attack. He was very explosive getting to the basket.”

Portland’s season-high six-game losing streak is now history.

“We didn’t want to lose that many in the row,” Aldridge said. “Tonight we came out focused from start to finish. Guys made shots. We set good screens. Everything was good.”

And the Blazers got it done without the outcome being decided in the closing seconds.

“It felt good to play the last six or seven minutes not down by five or six (points) and fighting uphill,” Hickson said.

NOTES: Portland concludes its five-game homestand Saturday night against the L.A. Clippers, then plays host to the Clippers Sunday night. “It’s a tough back-to-back with the Clippers, and we’re looking to win both of them,” Hickson said. ... Wednesday’s victory was the most one-sided for the Blazers since Feb. 21, 2012, when they beat San Antonio 137-97. That was the night when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat out healthy stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili ... Portland is tied for eighth spot in the West playoff race with Houston (22-22). ... Aldridge had an impressive final performance before Thursday’s announcement of the reserves for the All-Star Game. He had 16 points at halftime and 23 points by mid-third quarter. “He should make it, and I hope he does,” Stotts said. ... Lillard played 39 minutes, including the entire second half. ... Nicolas Batum contributed 10 points, eight assists and five rebounds but had four turnovers in 36 minutes for Portland. ... The Blazers have won four straight meetings with the Pacers at the Rose Garden. ... Hickson ranks third in the NBA in double-doubles behind Memphis’ Zach Randolph (27) and Golden State’s David Lee (26).

It was one of the best performances by the Portland bench all year. The Blazer reserves outscored their Indiana counterparts 19-15. Will Barton (eight points, four rebounds), Meyers Leonard (eight points, five boards) and Jared Jeffries (three points, four boards) were particularly effective. “We’ve been taking a lot of heat, but everybody on our bench is really talented,” Barton said. “If we’re worried about not messing up, it takes away from our game. Tonight everyone who got in there focused on producing, contributing plays. We played loose instead of being tight.” ... Stotts was asked what he said to Leonard when he pulled the 7-1 rookie from the game in the second quarter. “I don’t remember,” the first-year Blazer mentor said with a grin. “I was yelling at him most of the night.” ... Leonard’s put-back with 1.6 seconds left drew the night’s biggest cheer, since it gave the fans a free chalupa through the Taco Bell promotion for the Blazers hitting the 100-point barrier.

Paul George (22 points, seven rebounds) and David West (21 points) led the Pacers. ... seven of the wins in their 16-5 roll over the past five weeks have come in games in which they’ve scored fewer than 90 points. “Defensively, we’ve embraced the identity of trying to dominate on that end of the ball,” Vogel said. “We’ve shown flashes of NBA championship defense. It’s not there every night or every quarter, but we’ve gone through stretches where it’s been that way.” ... All-star forward Danny Granger, who underwent surgery to his left knee in November, is on the current four-game road trip with the Pacers. “He’s back in practice, doing all the shooting drills but not the contact stuff yet,” said Vogel, who envisions Granger returning sometime next month. ... Vogel calls Lillard “my rookie of the year and everybody else’s, too.” ... “I joked a little bit (at shootaround) and put on the board, ‘We have to contain Kyrie Lillard,’ “ Vogel said. “We have that level of respect for him. He can really play.”