Created: 12/02/2013 10:05 PM WHEC.com
(AP) LOS ANGELES - Portland’s enormous fourth-quarter lead dwindled to a single point before the Trail Blazers finally figured out how hold off the Los Angeles Lakers’ patchwork lineup.
Wesley Matthews thinks the harrowing experience will be good for the Blazers as they try to cement their spot among the NBA’s elite.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 27 points and nine rebounds, and Portland blew most of a 20-point lead before holding on to beat the Lakers 114-108 Sunday night.
Damian Lillard had 26 points and nine assists, and Matthews scored 17 points for the Blazers, whose 11-game winning streak ended four days earlier in Phoenix. The Blazers tied their franchise record with 13 victories in November, and they opened December with an unlikely nail-biter, surviving despite blowing big leads in each half.
"We shouldn’t have had to do that," Matthews said. "There’s still a learning curve for us, but it’s a good sign if your lesson is you have to learn how to play with a lead. It’s better than having to fight back."
The Lakers would agree, even though their rally got Staples Center rocking. Xavier Henry scored a career-high 27 points and Jodie Meeks added 20 for Los Angeles, which had won five of six to climb above .500 despite injury woes.
Portland led 94-74 entering the fourth, but promptly failed to score for nearly six minutes as the Lakers mounted a 24-5 run with a lineup featuring no point guard and energetic backup center Robert Sacre, who had career highs of 12 points and seven rebounds.
"We have guys down right now, but we can’t do anything about that," said Henry, who surpassed his previous career high set earlier this season. "The guys we do have can still give any team a run for its money."
Portland returned from its holiday break with its first road victory over the Lakers in seven tries since April 11, 2010, but only after a little drama. The Blazers blew a 17-point lead in the first half, but thought they had taken control with a 41-point third quarter _ their biggest period of the season.
Los Angeles cut Portland’s lead to 99-98 on Shawne Williams’ tip-in with 3:44 to play, but Lillard hit a 3-pointer with 2:54 left, and Matthews added another with 1:20 to play. Los Angeles kept it close, but the Blazers hit five of their six free throws in the final 23 seconds.
"We need to stay consistent," Lillard said. "When things are going well, we tend to ease up instead of tightening up and putting teams away. Once teams get fired up and get back in the game, our intensity rises again. We have to find a way to keep it at that high level."
The Lakers were left with only nine or 10 healthy players _ and one point guard _ when Jordan Farmar limped to the locker room in the first quarter, straining his left hamstring shortly after checking in to the game. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash still haven’t returned to uniform, and center Chris Kaman _ who recently recovered from a back injury _ dressed but didn’t play.
Pau Gasol, who missed Saturday’s practice to deal with nagging injury issues, missed nine of his 10 shots in the first half before finishing with six points on 3-of-15 shooting. He plans to have an MRI on his sore ankle Monday.
But the Lakers’ league-leading bench had another big game led by Henry, Sacre and Nick Young, who scored 17 points.
"That’s what this team is all about _ you never know who’s going to come out and produce," Sacre said. "That’s the whole essence of this team. We’re all about one another, and we want each other to succeed."
The Lakers hoped to play aggressively with the next four days off to rest, but instead got off to a horrific start. Portland took an 11-0 lead in the first four minutes as Los Angeles missed its first eight shots, stretching the margin to 21-4 before many fans had settled in their seats.
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni yanked four of his starters, and they gradually got back in it with a tying 19-6 run capped by Meeks’ 3-pointer midway through the second quarter.
Lillard scored 11 points in the third quarter as Portland made 17 of its 24 shots while taking command. Los Angeles then scored 10 straight points to open the fourth, and the Blazers didn’t get a field goal until 5:31 remained.
NOTES: Lillard converted a four-point play early in the second quarter, and Henry also did it midway through the fourth quarter. ... D’Antoni said Nash will be at practice on Tuesday after a trip to Vancouver for further rehab on his nerve root irritation. There’s no timetable for the return of the two-time MVP point guard _ or Bryant, who also will be in practice this week. D’Antoni declined to speculate whether Bryant could make his season debut when the Lakers visit Sacramento on Friday. ... Williams and Johnson both fouled out in the fourth quarter for Los Angeles.