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It's all she wrote on a Blazer season gone sour

The aftermath of the Trail Blazers’ season-ending 99-88 loss to Golden State Wednesday night at the Rose Garden was every bit a post-mortem.

As in, dissecting a Portland season that began with promise and just died.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Blazers were seriously thinking about the postseason.

“Three weeks ago, we were in a playoff hunt,” first-year coach Terry Stotts said before Wednesday’s game.

On March 22, Portland was 33-36 and still breathing, on the fringes of making the top eight in the Western Conference and moving on.

Then came a turn in fortune, some key injuries and a season-ending 13-game losing streak that threw salt into some unhealed wounds.

“I’m disappointed in the season,” said Wesley Matthews, the strong-willed shooting guard who missed the final five games with a sprained ankle. “I’m disappointed we lost tonight. I’m disappointed I couldn’t play.

“I don’t look at this as a rebuilding season. I thought we had enough firepower to be playing on April 20.”

The Blazers (33-49) had far too little firepower after Matthews, Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge were hit with late-season injuries that shot down the team’s probably far-fetched playoff hopes. Once it was clear the postseason was a mirage, Stotts went to a rookie-oriented lineup that afforded plenty of minutes to the likes of Meyers Leonard, Will Barton, Victor Claver and Joel Freeland.

“We had good moments and bad moments,” said Batum, who sat out the last eight games with a shoulder injury that he says will not require surgery. “We ended in a bad way, but we tried to show the fans we aren’t what people said we were — a bad team, a young team.

“We tried to compete every night and show we can be a good team. I can’t wait for next year.”

With Matthews and Batum on the shelf, Aldridge gave it one more go Wednesday night, returning after missing the previous two games with an ankle sprain. And what a return it was.

The 6-11 power forward was an animal, going for 30 points and a season-high 21 rebounds despite sitting out the entire fourth quarter.

“Just playing basketball,” said Aldridge, who was 12 for 23 from the field and 6 for 6 from the line, scoring with a mixture of post-up moves and mid-range jumpers. “Felt good. My ankle felt better.”

Portland trailed only 66-63 after three quarters, but Stotts chose to sit his all-star and leading scorer the rest of the way.

“I wanted him to get to 30 and 20,” Stotts said. After that, “I wanted the young guys to play, to close it out. They were playing hard.”

Or, perhaps Stotts was thinking that winning the game wasn’t so important, in that a victory would have placed Portland in a tie with Philadelphia and Toronto in the standings. That would have necessitated a tie-breaker between the three teams for the 10th, 11th and 12th slots in the lottery. With the loss, the Blazers get the No. 10 slot and the better draft pick.

Did Stotts explain the benching to Aldridge?

“He didn’t,” Aldridge said. “I didn’t ask. I did my job and just came out.

“And that was fine. The young guys had time to play. I thought they’d benefit more than me.”

Even through the dismal final weeks of the season, Portland fans stayed behind their team. When the Blazers closed what had been a 15-point deficit to three at the end of the third quarter, the supporters stood and made noise and cheered their team. They stayed with it until the Warriors stoked the lead back to 16 with three minutes to go. Finally, they headed to the exit.

“I wanted our team to play hard tonight,” Stotts told reporters afterward. “Our fans have been great all season. I told the team before the game, it was important for us, win or lose, to play hard.

“I have grown to appreciate the fans here. I’m not just saying that. I have a big appreciation for what the fans in Portland mean to the team. I’ve been in this league (as a coach) for 20 years. The fans here are exceptional. I wanted the guys to play to a level (the fans) expected, and I thought they did that. It was disapointing to lose, but I liked the way we played for the last game of the season.”

With so little on the line, he meant.

Afterward, as the Blazers dressed and watched late games on the locker room TVs and prepared for Thursday’s exit interviews with coaches and general manager Neil Olshey, they gave their reviews of a season passed by.

“A lot of ups and downs,” Aldridge said. “Wwe started out doing better than everyone thought. We fell apart at the end with the injuries. But throughout the year, guys worked hard, tried to get better, and the young guys tried to learn the game. That’s all you can ask right now.”

Right now.

Next year? After another lottery draft pick and acquisitions used with $11.8 million in salary-cap room?

There will be much more to ask of the Trail Blazers by then.

For now, Stotts will look at the 2012-13 season as a glass half full.

“When I look back at a lot of the things we did, particularly in the first 50-60 games — some of the wins, how we played, the close games ...I’m going to have a lot of fondness for this entire season,” the Blazer mentor said. “The losing streak, you can’t wipe that off. That’s part of it. but I’ll remember more about the first two-thirds of the season than the last 13 games.”

NOTES — Portland’s season-ending losing streak tied the franchise record, set in the 1971-72 season. ... Golden State’s Stephen Curry set the NBA single-season record for 3-pointers for the Warriors (47-35), who clinched the No. 6 seed in the West and a first-round matchup against No. 3 Denver with the win. Curry entered the game trailing Ray Allen (Seattle, 2005-06) by one trey. Curry made 4 of 11 from beyond the arc and hiked his season total to 272, three more than Allen’s previous mark. “It’s special,” said Curry, son of former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry. “I grew up watching Ray Allen shoot in shooting drills when he played with my dad in Milwaukee. I have an appreciation for how well he shot the ball in his career, and especially that one season. My teammates helped me along the way, setting screens and running our offense. It’s a pretty special moment for everybody.” ... Klay Thompson led the Warriors with 24 points and David Lee added 20 points and 10 rebounds. ... Curry and Thompson built on their NBA single-season 3-point record for teammates, making nine between them Wednesday to finish at 483. Thompson was 5 for 7 from beyond the stripe.

Portland rookie Damian Lillard, who scored 21 Wednesday night, wound up with season averages of 19.1 points and 6.5 assists, joining Oscar Robertson, Allen Iverson and Damon Stoudamire as the only rookies in history average better than 19 points and six assists. ... Lillard played 3,167 minutes, becoming the first rookie to lead the category since Elvin Hayes in 1968-69. ... Aldridge, who scored 14 of the Blazers’ 17 first-quarter points, finished the season with a career-high 38 double-doubles, combining with JJ Hickson (40) for 78, the most by any two teammates in the NBA this season. ... Stotts on Aldridge: “I think he’s underappreciated. He’s the best power forward in the league. He showed it tonight.” ... Barton went the entire 48 minutes, scoring 15 points with seven rebounds and four assists. ... Matthews said the early shut-down of the season could work in his benefit for next season. “At this point today, this will be the longest time I’ve ever given my body a chance to heal,” he said. “That’s what the doctors and trainers are telling me I need to do. That’s all I’m worried about — getting healthy and busting my ass this offseason to get better.”