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Aldridge scores 27 in Blazers’ 96-89 win over Nets
By ANNE M. PETERSON, AP Sports Writer Sunday, Jan 16, 2011

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP)—LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) was so exhausted in the fourth quarter against New Jersey that he couldn’t make a pair of free throws.

But he redeemed himself with the go-ahead dunk with 1:56 left and finished with 27 points, leading the Portland Trail Blazers to a 96-89 victory over the Nets on Saturday night.

“Those free throws—I was just happy they hit the rim, because I was so tired,” he sighed afterward.

Aldridge was charged with guarding Brook Lopez(notes), who finished with 32 points and had the Nets up by as many as 13 points in the first half. But New Jersey couldn’t fend off Portland’s late rally for its fifth straight loss.

Nicolas Batum(notes) had a season-high 23 points for the Blazers, who snapped a three-game losing streak, including Friday night’s 115-111 loss at Phoenix. Portland avoided its first three-game losing streak at the Rose Garden in nearly three years.

Sasha Vujacic’s(notes) long jumper put New Jersey in front 87-86. After Aldridge missed two free throws, he dunked to give Portland an 88-87 edge with 1:56 left. Batum hit free throws and Wesley Matthews(notes) scored on a fast-break layup to extend the Blazers’ lead to 92-87.

“We had to gut it out,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “LaMarcus was running on fumes, but we made some big plays.”

At the midway point of the season, the Blazers considered themselves lucky to be at 21-20, given the injuries they’ve seen—most notably to All-Star Brandon Roy(notes), who will have surgery on both knees next week and is out indefinitely.

“It was big for everybody’s confidence,” said Andre Miller(notes). “No matter what team it is. We could have easily lost this game.”

The Nets are 10-30.

The game came as rumors continued to swirl over a possible trade involving the teams. The Nets have been in discussions with Denver and Detroit on a three-way deal that would send Carmelo Anthony(notes) to New Jersey, and there are reports that the Nuggets would like to expand the deal if they could land Batum.

Portland trailed by as many as eight points in the first quarter. The Nets extended the lead to 39-26 on Vujacic’s 3-pointer midway through the second. The Blazers narrowed it to 53-46 at the break.

Lopez was 8 of 11 from the floor for 18 points before the half for the Nets, who shot 60 percent from the field. They shot 50 percent for the game.

The Blazers closed within 55-53 early in the second half on Batum’s 3-pointer and a long jumper. They pulled in front on Aldridge’s hook.

Miller’s jumper extended Portland’s lead to 60-55. But it was short-lived, and Lopez put the Nets back in front 70-65 with a jumper, a layup and a free throw.

Portland pulled ahead 82-21 on Batum’s layup midway through the final quarter, and it was back-and-forth until Vujacic’s long jumper.

“They were doubling me far out, so we tried to swing the ball,” Lopez said. “We had some good looks … otherwise we made turnovers. The turnovers were really the story.”

The Nets had 13 total turnovers, nine of them in the second half.

The Nets, who have lost 10 of their last 11, were coming off coming off a 100-88 loss to the Lakers on Friday night.

“We had a pretty good flow for 3 1/2 quarters of the game, but we’ve got to fight through the mental and physical fatigue on the road if we want to be a good team,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said.

Notes: Fifty percent of the proceeds from sales of Patty Mills’ jerseys and T-shirts from the Trail Blazers’ fan shop through January are going to help the victims of the floods in Australia. Mills is from Canberra. Twenty-six people have died and 14 others are missing because of flooding since November in the northeastern part of the country. … Portland hasn’t lost three straight at home since March 29-April 6, 2008.

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