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  • 21 Dec 2014

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L.A. story as Blazers pinch Pistons

If LaMarcus Aldridge played every NBA game the way he has against Detroit this season, he would have a locker reserved in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

The All-Star power forward was a little Karl Malone, a little Tom Chambers in Portland’s 112-101 victory over the Pistons Saturday night at the Rose Garden.

Aldridge scored 31 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, sinking 13 of 21 from the field and 5 of 5 from the free-throw line in a dominant 38-minute performance.

“In the third quarter ... he made two or three shots that I don’t know how he made them,” said Brian Hill, Detroit’s acting head coach in place of Lawrence Frank, who is not with the team while tending to his ill wife.

That after going for 32 points and 10 boards in the Blazers’ 108-101 loss at Detroit on Nov. 26.

“I just felt good tonight,” the 6-11 Aldridge said. “I started kind of slow, but in the second half, I found my rhythm. I guess I was feeling it.”

Aldridge scored 21 points after intermission, converting on a mixture of jumpers, fadeaways and power moves.

“During the game, I was joking with him,” teammate J.J. Hickson said. “I said, ‘I think I’m rubbing off on you.’ "

Hickson was superlative, too, with 18 points and 15 rebounds for his 37th double-double of the season.

There were other key contributors to the victory for Portland (31-34), including Nicolas Batum, who did a little bit of everything, and little-used rookie Joel Freeland, who came through with flying colors when coach Terry Stotts beckoned after Aldridge picked up two early fouls.

It was anything but an easy victory over the woeful Pistons (23-45), who lost for the eighth straight time and finished their road trip 0-4.

Detroit led through most of the early going, taking a 30-24 advantage into the second quarter. The Pistons, getting out into transition for 14 fast-break points in the half, led 56-46 with 1:35 left before settling for a 57-52 advantage at the break.

The Blazers scored the first nine points of the third quarter to go on top 61-57.

Portland’s lead seemed safe at 99-87 with 4 1/2 minutes left, but the Pistons charged back, scoring 10 in a row to get to within 99-97 with 2:50 remaining.

The Blazers still led only 102-99 when they finally put it away with seven straight points — Aldridge’s rebound basket, a pair of Wesley Matthews free throws and a three-point play by Aldridge.

“I was very disappointed with our defense in the first half,” Stotts said. “I liked how we tightened things up at the beginning of the second half. Our defense was noticeably better — more connected, more aggressive. That set the tone.”

Batum filled up the stat sheet with 17 points, six assists, five rebounds and three blocked shots in 38 minutes. It was one of those nights when he seemed to provide the intangibles, too, that justify a four-year, $46-million contract.

“That’s my job,” he aaid. “If I’m on the court, I try to rebound, assist, score points, block shots, get steals — everything.”

Freeland had eight points on 4-for-6 shooting and two rebounds in seven first-quarter minutes, adding two boards in a total of 10 minutes for the game. He had played only 21 minutes in the previous 11 contests.

“Detroit plays two big guys and (the Pistons) don’t space the floor, so this was a game that was set up for him to play,” Stotts said. “Joel has been working real hard. I compliment his work ethic. He has been putting in a lot of time before and after practice and before games.

“He made things happen, finished around the basket, played with some energy. He has been waiting for the opportunity and he was ready.”

“Joel played confident,” said Matthews, who scored 17 points in his 38 minutes. “He was making the right reads, paying attention to the game and seeing where he can fit in.”

All the bench time, Freeland allowed, “is tough mentally more than anything. But I just have to do what I know how to do — hustle, play hard — and let the game come to me.”

Detroit, minus starting point guard Brandon Knight (ankle), played about as well as could be expected.

“Our guys played their hearts out tonight,” Hill said.

Rodney Stuckey scored a season-high 32 points despite bumping heads with Portland’s Damian Lillard in the third quarter, loosening a tooth and sustaining a cut to the forehead in the process.

“No tooth, and now I have to go get stitches,” the former Eastern Washington standout said. “I’m good, though.”

But the best player on the floor was Aldridge.

“He was remarkable,” Stotts said. “Needs to get two fouls early more often. He had it going. He created a problem on the block all night, scoring or passing, making his jump shot, rebounding.”

“I saw Dame (Lillard) was a little tired or a little off tonight, so I was trying to pick it up,” Aldridge said.

Portland embarks on a five-game trip that begins Monday night at Philadelphia and includes stops at Milwaukee, Chicago, Atlanta and Oklahoma City. The Blazers need to win games to make up ground on the Los Angeles Lakers (35-32) and Utah (34-32), the teams ahead of them in the chase for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Portland trails the Lakers by three games, the Jazz by 2 1/2.

“It’s kind of backwards, but we seem to not play very well against non-playoff teams, so it’s perfect for us,” Matthews said of the trip. “We got to have it. No other way around it. We got to get at least three of them.”

“It’s a make-or-break trip,” Aldridge said. “We’re right there. If we take care of business, anything’s possible.

NOTES: South Medford High grad Kyle Singler, making an NBA debut in his home state, had a rough time. Singler finished with four points, no rebounds and no assists in 40 minutes for the Pistons, making 2 of 10 shots and having three shots blocked by Batum. “He has done a great job,” Hill said before the game when asked about Singler. “We’re pleasantly surprised. Kyle very seldom makes mistakes in terms of understanding the game plan or trying to do too many things on the floor. He is technically a very solid player, does all the right things at the right times, and he knocks down his open shots. He has exceeded expectations.”... Lillard had 14 points and seven assists but was 3 for 12 from the field. It snapped Lillard’s eight-game streak of scoring at least 20 points. In his two games against Detroit, the rookie point guard made 7 of 30 shots. ... Detroit shot .581 in the first half and .526 for the game. Portland was 0-14 against opponents shooting better than 50 percent this season before Saturday night. ... Hickson's 37 double-doubles leaves him tied for second in the NBA with the Lakers’ Dwight Howard behind Golden State’s David Lee (43). Aldridge has 31 double-doubles and five games with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and 50 percent shooting — tied with Miami’s LeBron James for the league lead in that category. ... Hickson notched his 10th game with at least 15 points and 15 boards, tied for second-most in the NBA this season. ... Aldridge, James and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant are the only players with 1,300 points and 500 rebounds. ... It was Portland’s 12th win when trailing at halftime. ... Guard Will Bynum came off the bench to score 23 points on 10-for-14 shooting for the Pistons. ... Portland was 23 for 24 from the line and has missed just one gift shot in three of its last four outings.