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Hawks lock down Lillard, Blazers, win 104-98

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TRIBUNE PHOTO: DAVID BLAIR  - Portland's Damian Lillard finds the early going rough against Atlanta.When the going got tough Wednesday night at Moda Center, the tough got going -- and it wasn't the Trail Blazers.

Forwards Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore combined for 19 fourth-quarter points, and Atlanta finished the game on a 19-8 run to put away Portland 104-98.

Millsap contributed 23 points and nine rebounds, Bazemore had 23 points, five rebounds and five assists and center Al Horford chipped in 16 points and eight boards as the balanced Hawks (26-17) won their third in a row.

It was the opener of a seven-game homestand for the Blazers (19-26), who began the day a half-game back of Utah in the race for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference. The Jazz (18-24) lost at New York, allowing Sacramento (18-23) to move into the eighth spot in the West. Portland is now a game behind the Kings and a half-game behind the Jazz. None of the Blazers' next five opponents -- beginning with the Lakers on Saturday -- have winning records.

"We have (seven) home games in a row, and we have to make sure we compete, come to play in front of our home crowd," said Portland's CJ McCollum, who scored 28 points on 12-for-23 shooting. "They're all very winnable games. Tonight was a winnable game. Unfortunately, we didn't come away with it. Now we have to turn the page and try to get the next one on Saturday."

Damian Lillard finished with 18 points and six assists, but made only 8 of 22 shots from the field, including 1 for 6 from 3-point range. Lillard, who started 2 for 9 from the field, scored 14 second-half points, including a four-point play to touch off a 9-0 run and give the Blazers an 84-79 advantage with eight minutes to play. It was all Atlanta from there.

"When we needed stops, we couldn't get stops," Lillard said. "I was proud of the way we competed. We gave ourselves a chance down the stretch, but it just wasn't good enough."

Atlanta's defensive thrust was at limiting the scoring chances of McCollum and Lillard. In the latter case, it worked splendidly. The Hawks blitzed every pick-and-roll involving the Blazers' All-Star point guard.

"We wanted to put a lot of pressure on them, try to make it difficult on them -- not give them any clean looks," Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. "It's a real challenge to play that many pick-and-rolls and be that aggressive. For the majority of the night, our bigs' pick-and-roll defense was very good."

Lillard said recent Blazer opponents have played it much the same as the Hawks.

"Over the last couple of games, I've been getting a lot of attention," he said. "On pick-and-rolls, I've been seeing two guys. I got some looks tonight I think I could have knocked down, but you have to give some credit to what (the Hawks) do defensively. They're a very physical, active team."

Atlanta led by as many as 13 points in the second quarter and took a 48-43 lead into intermission. The difference was 66-56 late in the third quarter when Portland started a 28-13 run that produced a five-point lead.

The Hawks, with back-to-back 3's by Bazemore and guard Kyle Korver, answered with an 8-0 spurt to go back in front 87-84. They never trailed again, though the Blazers stayed in the game until Bazemore sank four straight gift shots inside the final 14 seconds.

"We had a good effort," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "Seemed like we were fighting from behind, but we kept after it, found ways to stay in the game. In the fourth quarter, we had momentum and I thought things might continue our way. But Atlanta's a good team … and we just didn't have quite enough to finish the job."

With the forgiving schedule, the Blazer players were hoping to make hay and move up in the standings. They didn't get the homestand off to the start they wanted.

"We'll have plenty of opportunity to win some games," Lillard said. "Atlanta is a really good team. We wanted to start it off with a win tonight. It would have been a huge win, but we didn't put enough of a complete game together."

NOTES: Millsap was 4 for 4 from the field -- including 2 for 2 from 3-point range -- and grabbed four rebounds in the fourth quarter. Millsap, who entered the game shooting .289 on 3-point attempts, went 3 for 3 from beyond the arc Wednesday. … At one point early in the third quarter, McCollum had 20 and his teammates 30 as the Hawks led 56-50. … Atlanta has won four straight against Portland. … Lillard's rap video based on racial harmony, "Bigger Than Us," debuted during TNT's Martin Luther King Day coverage. "I was disappointed that TNT showed only an abbreviated version, but I was proud of the message that was sent," Stotts said. "It was very well done. I was singing it the rest of the day." … The Blazers began a seven-game homestand Wednesday night that covers 16 days. They won't play again on the road until a Feb. 6 visit to Houston. "We have a lot of off days," Stotts said. "Hopefully, the rest will do us good. And we'll make good use of our practice time. We'll sit down with our coaches (Thursday) and decide how we want to attack it."

Budenholzer. before the game on Lillard and McCollum: "They're two of the top guards in the league. They're incredible scorers. They can shoot off the dribble, which sometimes is not appreciated enough. They're just so skilled. They can play the pick-and-roll game. … they're a dynamic tandem. You have to know where they are at all times and try to limit them in some way." … Former Lake Oswego High and University of Portland player Ben Sullivan is in his second season as an assistant coach for the Hawks. "We're incredibly fortunate to have him," Budenholzer said. "He brings a ton of value. Our players respect and appreciate his work ethic. He also has a knowledge that makes him a little bit special. You can see it in how our players are improving and developing. He's really good." Sullivan, 31, had spent the previous two seasons as a video coordinator and developmental coach with San Antonio. "The Hawks are a great organization, and I feel lucky to be with them," he said. "My time with the Spurs was a great learning environment. It was a pretty amazing experience."

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