Dragic shines as Suns hand Blazers sixth straight loss

Kerry Eggers, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

PORTLAND -- After losing four straight going into the All-Star break, Phoenix coach Lindsay Hunter said he was looking for his players to be "refreshed" and ready to "get back to full force" Tuesday night against Portland.
The Suns jumped in front 12-0, shot 60 percent from the field in the first half and rode a 19-point halftime cushion to a 102-98 victory over the Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden.
Goran Dragic scored 16 points -- including a pair of free throws with 13.5 seconds remaining -- and dished out a career-high 18 assists as Phoenix held off a late Portland rally.
"It was amazing," Hunter said of Dragic's performance. "It was fun to watch, because everybody was getting involved. I'm proud and pleased with how he is coming along."
Luis Scola added 18 points and Jermaine O'Neal came off the bench for nine points and 13 rebounds for the Suns (18-36), who possess the worst record in the Western Conference.
J.J. Hickson had 25 points and 16 rebounds and Damian Lillard contributed 24 points and seven assists for Portland (25-29), which extended its losing streak to six games.
Five Suns scored in double figures and eight had seven points or more.
"A great team effort tonight," Hunter said. "Guys played the right way and shared the ball, and that's the side effects we want to have from all the work we've put in."
Portland trimmed a 19-point halftime deficit to 71-63 with a 7-0 run midway through the third quarter. The Suns entered the fourth period with an 84-73 advantage.
Phoenix increased the margin to 90-74, but the Blazers scored six points in a row to get to within 90-80 with 8:12 left.
Lillard's 3-pointer cut the Phoenix lead to 96-92 with 3:55 to go, and it was 100-92 when Portland's Nicolas Batum bombed in another trey with 2:24 remaining.
Blazer reserve Nolan Smith made 1 of 2 at the foul line to cut the difference to 100-96 with 1:28 left.
LaMarcus Aldridge's two foul shots cut the Suns' edge to 100-98 with 20.5 seconds to go before Dragic put the win on ice at the line.
Portland had a habit of falling behind early in games, then waging a furious rally that sometimes produces victory, but more often does not. The Blazers are 4-9 in games decided by four points or fewer.
"We've been doing this to ourselves all season," Lillard said. "Now there's a stretch coming up where we have to figure it out how to put full games together.
"When a team is playing as well as (the Suns) were tonight, we don't have room to spot them 12 points. We have to get something going fast, because we're running out of time."
Phoenix dominated from the opening tip, racing to a 12-0 lead as Portland missed its first eight shots. The Suns were 16 for 22 from the field in seizing a 36-23 advantage after one quarter and increased the margin to 63-44 before settling for a 63-47 edge at the half.
Wesley Johnson came off the bench for 12 points and six rebounds in the half for Phoenix, which shot .600 and won the battle for rebounds (27-15) and points in the paint (28-18). Scola and Marcin Gortat each scored 10 points on combined 10-for-13 shooting and Dragic contributed nine points and 12 assists -- 10 in the first quarter.
Hickson had 12 points and six boards at the break for the Blazers.
"I was very disappointed with the defense in the first half," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "The slow start had a lot to do with how things went for us the first half.
"We can't afford to let (an opponent) score 63 points on 60 percent shooting (the first half). We can't let a team execute and do what they want to do."
NOTES: Phoenix's scored the most points in the first quarter and in the first half of any Portland opponent all season. ... Dragic had 16 assists through three quarters. His previous career high for a game was 14 ... Phoenix centers Gortat and O'Neil are a combined 41 for 58 shooting in three games against Portland this season ... the Suns snapped a seven-game losing streak in Portland. It was their first win there since March 2008. ... Phoenix owned the backboards 51-37. ... Hickson is fourth in the NBA in double-doubles with 28th. The Portland center was 10 for 14 from the field and has shot 50 percent or better in a franchise-record 17 straight games. ... Portland's starting shooting guard, Wesley Matthews (ankle), didn't play. "(Monday) Wes was optimistic he'd be able to go, but it just wasn't there," Stotts said. "Hopefully he'll be ready for the Lakers" Friday night.

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