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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 11, 2010

NBA: Blazers hold off Lakers, improve playoff position

AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES Martell Webster's flawless free-throw stroke was just about the only thing that worked the way it's supposed to in a significant win for the Portland Trail Blazers' hopes of avoiding a return to Staples Center next week.

Yet given the way these Blazers have been playing for nearly two months, they're bound to be big trouble for anybody in the postseason even if it turns out to be the Los Angeles Lakers anyway.

Webster hit three free throws with 3.1 seconds left, and Portland moved into a tie for seventh place in the Western Conference standings with a 91-88 victory over the defending NBA champions Sunday.

Portland (49-31) snapped a five-game road losing streak against the top-seeded Lakers (56-24) while tying San Antonio with two games to play, but only after a dramedy of errors in the final minutes.

Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher were left chuckling to each other after they combined to miss three free throws in the last 6.9 seconds, and Pau Gasol missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the Lakers, who have lost six of nine.

Webster only got the chance to win it for Portland because of his weird shot selection. Instead of driving for a simpler shot in the final seconds of an even game, the reserve swingman pulled up for an awkward, one-legged 3-point attempt and Fisher couldn't avoid fouling him in his surprise.

"It was definitely hostile out there," Webster said after sinking three straight free throws for the second time in the final 3:34. "I just went up there and shot them with confidence. ... That's the kind of atmosphere that will be there in the playoffs. It's a good chance we might be playing these guys in the first round, so going out there, you can have butterflies, but once that ball tips in the air, you've got to let it go."

LaMarcus Aldridge had 24 points and 11 rebounds for the Blazers, who lost leading scorer Brandon Roy at halftime because of a sore right knee. Webster scored 16 points, Andre Miller added 15 for the Blazers, and Marcus Camby had 10 points and 17 rebounds, including a go-ahead tip-in basket with 12.7 seconds left.

"That was just crazy," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. "We fouled Kobe, they fouled us, Kobe missed two free throws, Fisher missed a free throw I mean, just a crazy ending. ... The Lakers are good, and whoever we face (in the playoffs) is going to be a challenge. It's been a tough, grind-it-out type of game every time we've played them."

Yet while the Lakers sputter down the stretch, Portland is purring: The Blazers haven't lost back-to-back games since Feb. 19-21.

Gasol had 23 points and 12 rebounds, and Lamar Odom added 16 points and 15 rebounds for the Lakers, while Bryant had 20 points on 8-of-23 shooting. After clinching the top seed by beating Minnesota on Friday, the Lakers simply are trying to stay healthy before the playoffs begin next Sunday, but they're also trying to recapture the form that led them to the top of the conference before their recent struggles.

"Our margin for error is not as big as it was in the past," Fisher said. "Teams are getting better. It's not that far off, as far as I'm concerned, but that doesn't mean we're OK with what's happening."

Bryant took off the Lakers' last two games to rest his litany of injuries, most prominently his swollen right knee. Bryant also has a broken bone in a finger on his shooting hand and a sprained ankle.

After a rocky performance that didn't include a free throw until the final 31 seconds, Bryant made a 3-pointer and a three-point play in the final minute while Los Angeles rallied from a seven-point deficit to take an 87-86 lead. But after Camby's tip-in, Bryant clanged two free throws.

"I haven't been shooting free throws very well anyway," Bryant said. "I'm trying to brush up on them, change it up a little bit ... but even if I made two, their guy shot three free throws, but then Pau would have shot two ... I don't know."

Gasol rebounded Bryant's second miss and got it to Fisher, who was fouled by Miller. The veteran point guard also missed his first free throw before tying it with 4.7 seconds to play.

Roy, the Blazers' leading scorer with 21.8 points per game, played 11 minutes in the first half before the Blazers ruled him out at halftime with knee soreness. Roy had struggled with a sore back in recent days, missing practice to rest up for the playoffs.

"We're hoping that it's not too serious," McMillan said. "We decided to hold him (out of) the second half and get some X-rays, and we'll look at him again (Monday)."

NOTES: Evan Turner, the AP college player of the year, attended the game with his mother after receiving the Wooden Award in Los Angeles on Friday. The Ohio State star has been getting text messages and advice on his entry into the NBA draft from Bryant. ... Los Angeles' Ron Artest had six assists in the first 9 minutes, but didn't get another. ... Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and David Beckham watched the game together from seats next to the Lakers' bench. The crowd also included director Peter Berg, comedians George Lopez and Rob Riggle, Bengals WR/reality-show dancer Chad Ochocinco, and singers Natalie Cole and Neil Diamond, who mouthed the chorus to "Sweet Caroline" when his song played in the arena.