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Blazers' Aldridge: The door is closing on us

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Trail Blazers guard Will Barton defends against Memphis guard Jerryd Bayless during Portland's loss to the Grizzlies at the Rose Garden.The mathematics say the Trail Blazers still have an opportunity to make the NBA playoffs.

“But that door is closing,” Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge said after Memphis’ 102-97 victory over the Trail Blazers Tuesday night at the Rose Garden. “We have to put some wins together fast. If we don’t, that door will close on us.”

The Blazers, 29-34 with 19 games to play, stand 11th in the Western Conference, four games behind the surging Los Angeles Lakers (34-31) in eighth place. Also between Portland and the final playoff spot in the West are Utah (33-31) and Dallas (30-33).

“It was a big game for us,” Portland’s Damian Lillard said. “We needed to take care of homecourt and we didn’t. Like I say after every game we lose, it makes everything harder.”

Tuesday’s contest began a three-game homestand for Portland, which desperately needs to string together some victories to remain in the postseason hunt.

“Whatever happens with the playoffs will happen,” coach Terry Stotts said. “It’s a cliche, but we’re taking it each game.

“You want to win the ones at home. We have New York on Thursday. Right now, that’s our concern.”

On Tuesday night, the Grizzlies were Portland’s concern. They shot .513 from the field, won the points-in-the-paint battle 52-40 and forced 16 Blazer turnovers, but defense was the catalyst to their victory. Portland shot .405 from the field and was 5 for 16 from 3-point range.

“They are physical,” Stotts said. “They play great team defense, play great individual defense. It was a struggle to score all night. We didn’t shoot the ball well. Part of that was us; part of that was their good defense.”

Zach Randolph made a triumphant return after missing four games with a sprained ankle, collecting 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Grizzlies (42-19), who improved to 13-1 in their last 14 games. Marc Gasol scored 20 points, Mike Conley had 14 points, 15 assists and four steals, and Ed Davis contributed 14 points and nine boards off the bench.

Aldridge went for 28 points with 10 rebounds, and Lillard collected 27 points and seven assists for Portland, but they were the only Blazers who scored in double figures. The other three starters — J.J. Hickson, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum — combined to score 20 points on 6-for-25 shooting.

The Grizzlies “pride themselves on defense,” said Hickson, who had eight points and nine rebounds and was 3 for 10 from the field. “That’s what wins games for them. They’re not a team that beats you by 20 or 30 points, but you’re not going to score on them. Not to say every night is going to be the same, but tonight was a rough one for us.”

“They make it hard to get good looks,” said Lillard, who was 8 for 17 from the field, 3 for 5 from 3-point range and 8 for 8 from the foul line. “They’re consistent with making it tough. They run guys off the 3-point line, they contest every shot ... they’re really good at what they do.”

Portland led 27-25 after one quarter, but after Memphis knocked off an 11-2 run to go on top 36-29 early in the second period, it was an uphill battle for the Blazers the rest of the way.

Memphis extended an eight-point halftime lead to 66-51 on Davis’ driving layup with 3:05 left in the third quarter. The Grizzlies took a 68-58 lead in the fourth quarter. Portland scored 39 points in the final period — the most against Memphis in any quarter all season — and still couldn’t quite get it done.

Tayshaun Prince’s 3-pointer gave Memphis an 86-78 advantage with 3:32 to go, but Portland stayed with it, trimming the Grizzlies’ lead to 100-97 on three free throws by Maynor with 2.0 seconds to go.

When Jerryd Bayless sank a pair of free throws with 1.5 seconds to go, the verdict was finally on ice.

“We played hard all night and controlled the game,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “We made some not-so-smart plays down the stretch, fouling guys when we shouldn’t have. But we made enough free throws and made enough plays.

“It was a nice win against a very tough ballclub that wouldn’t quit.”

“They want to play slow, grind it out, play a halfcourt game, play to their bigs,” said Aldridge, who had one of his most complete games of the season, going 10 for 19 from the field and 8 for 8 from the line to go with four assists and four blocked shots. “We played decent, but we didn’t get the win.”

Aldridge went hard to the basket often, scoring most of his baskets on post-ups, slashing shots and jump hooks.

“Z-Bo (Randolph) had said I was going to take jump shots all game, so I was trying to go to the basket more,” Aldridge said. “The first two games in Memphis, they played me more for my jump shot. I watched (video) and saw I could go to the basket more. I thought that was good for us.”

There was plenty of physical play and verbal banter in the trenches between All-Stars Aldridge and Randolph, the latter a Blazer from 2001-07, the last year Aldridge’s rookie campaign.

“That’s two guys being competitive,” Aldridge said. “I’ve known Z-Bo since my first day in the league. We’ve done that in practice and now in games against each other.”

The season is growing short on the Blazers, who continue to hold playoff hopes.

“Every loss from here on out is extra disappointing,” Hickson said. “We still have a chance, which is crazy, but we have to lock in and get some wins going.”

Will the Blazers lose heart as the postseason slips away?

“I can’t see that happening,” Lillard said. “Even if our playoff hopes go down the drain, there’s still a pride thing.

“We’re not going to go out there and not play with the same passion because we don’t have a chance (for the playoffs). It’s still going on our record. We still want to win. We’re competitive. I doubt that would happen.”

NOTES — Batum did not make a field goal in 41 minutes. He was 0 for 5 from the field, scoring four points with 10 rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocked shots. Asked why Batum has struggled often at the offensive end of late, Stotts replied, “I don’t know. We need him to shoot the ball with confidence, be aggressive going to the basket, be able to drive and run. For whatever reason, it’s not there right now.” Batum said his sore right wrist continues to bother him. “For two months, it’s the same,” he said. “I try to take care of it, do more. It hurts. It bothers me a lot. It’s hard to play basketball with it.” ... Lillard on Conley: “He did what he does almost every game. He’s great at anticipating and getting into passing lanes, moves the ball really well. He got everybody involved and shot a lot of free throws.” ...

Lillard scored at least 20 points for the seventh game in a row. ... Randolph notched his 36th double-double of the season to break a tie with Hickson and move into second in the NBA behind Golden State’s David Lee (42). It was the 29th double-double for Aldridge, who tied Rasheed Wallace for sixth place on Portland’s career rebound list with 3,797. And it was Aldridge’s 18th 20/10 game of the season. Only Lee (23) and Miami’s LeBron James (20) have more. ... Hickson was 3 for 10 from the field, ending a franchise-record streak of 25 games shooting 50 percent or better. It’s the fourth longest such streak in the NBA in the last 25 years. ... Rookie center Meyers Leonard, who missed Sunday’s loss at New Orleans with a right ankle sprain, returned to action for the Trail Blazers, getting six points and seven rebounds off the bench. ... Portland backup forward Victor Claver (ankle) missed his second straight game.