New Orleans Hornets 96 – Portland Trail Blazers 103


PORTLAND, Ore. (AP)—LaMarcus Aldridge sheepishly admits that he paced himself in the third quarter against the Hornets so that he’d be primed for the fourth.

Although he said he probably shouldn’t have revealed the plan, it worked. Aldridge had 12 of his 34 points in the fourth to lead Portland’s rally to a 103-96 victory over New Orleans on Wednesday night.

“I was just trying to make it to the fourth with some energy left,” he said.

It was a season-high sixth straight win for the Blazers, who head into the All-Star break in fifth place in Western Conference standings and a season-best eight games over .500—despite injuries to three-time All-Star Brandon Roy and veteran center Marcus Camby.

“I think we’re in a great mindset, a great place,” Aldridge said.

David West had 27 points and Willie Green added 24 for the Hornets, who have lost three straight and nine of their last 11.

The Hornets led by eight after the break, but Nicolas Batum’s dunk narrowed it to 86-85 and Aldridge’s turnaround jumper and free throw with 4:13 left gave the Blazers’ their first lead of the half. Andre Miller added a pull-up jumper to make it 90-86.

Green hit a running jumper, but Wesley Matthews answered with two consecutive layups for Portland to make it 94-88 and the Blazers controlled it the rest of the way.

Matthews finished with 24 points.

“So we go into the break winning. The thing is to continue to win,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “You start watching the standings when you’re losing. As long as you keep winning, you know that you’re in good shape.”

There was talk that the Blazers might see Roy and Camby return for Wednesday night’s game, but it was decided to hold both back until after the All-Star break.

Roy, who was averaging 16.6 points before he was sidelined indefinitely in December, told reporters he would play next Wednesday when the Blazers host the defending NBA champion Lakers.

Roy had arthroscopic surgery on both knees on Jan. 17. Later that week, Camby had a procedure to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee. Roy has said the problem is a lack of cartilage in his knees.

Both players have returned to practice.

The Blazers have been faring well even without them, thanks in a big way to Aldridge, who was named the NBA’s Western Conference player of the week after he scored at least 36 points in three straight games last week, including a career-high 42 in a 109-103 win over Chicago on Feb. 7.

New Orleans, meanwhile, is struggling without center Emeka Okafor, who has been out for nine games with a strained muscle in his side. Okafor, who is averaging 11.1 points and 10.1 rebounds, is also expected back after the All-Star break.

The Hornets were coming off a 102-89 loss at Golden State on Tuesday night.

“It’s really tough,” said All-Star Chris Paul, who was held to just eight points by the Blazers. “The only good thing is we’ve got a lot of basketball left to play. It will be good for us to get a chance to regroup and see what we can do.”

The Blazers jumped out to a 27-18 lead on Batum’s 3-pointer and extended it to 35-26 on Matthews’ three at the first-quarter buzzer.

The Hornets narrowed it to 40-38 midway through the second, before going ahead 47-46 on Willie Green’s layup and free throw. New Orleans led 49-48 at the break.

West hit a jumper and Trevor Ariza added a free throw to give the Hornets their biggest lead to that point, 66-59, but Batum answered with a 3-pointer.

Aldridge opened the fourth quarter with an angry put-back dunk to pull Portland to 76-72. His tip-in with 6:24 left in the game narrowed it to 84-83.

Notes: New Orleans had won the last two games in the series, and the last three at the Rose Garden. … With his second assist Wednesday night, Chris Paul reached 4,000 for his career. … The Hornets host the Los Angeles Clippers next Wednesday after the All-Star break. … The Blazers have won 12 games this season when entering the fourth quarter either trailing or tied.

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