Another late-game cold streak downs the Blazers

PORTLAND — LaMarcus Aldridge, Steve Blake and the rest of the Trail Blazers walked off the Rose Garden floor, heads down and shoulders slumped, shocked and stunned.

And while they made their slow, deliberate exit, New Orleans guard Chris Paul ramped up.

Soon, Paul was jumping high, crashing into two Hornets teammates before landing directly on the Trail Blazers logo at center court.

The message was sent.

The game was stolen.

Paul swished a 16-foot pull-up jump shot with 3.9 seconds remaining, giving New Orleans a 98-97 come-from-behind victory before a sold-out crowd of 20,249.

“This is tough,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “This is tough to lose a game like this, especially on your floor.”

Portland led 96-88 after Rudy Fernandez sank two free throws with 3:26 left in the fourth quarter.

But the Blazers missed their final six field goals, one of two free throws, and committed a shot-clock violation during the time that followed.

Meanwhile, the Hornets ended the game on a 10-1 run.

Blazers guard Jerryd Bayless had a chance to win the contest when he hoisted an off-balance jumper with 0.1 remaining. But two Hornets defenders disrupted Bayless’ view, and his shot never had a chance.

McMillan said Portland’s late-game cold streak came down to missing open shots, not a lack of execution.

But he acknowledged that the loss was frustrating for a Blazers (27-19) team playing without All-Star guard Brandon Roy (sprained hamstring) for at least another week.

Portland is 2-3 in its last five contests, including last-second losses to New Orleans and Boston. And all of the Blazers’ defeats have been by five points or less.

“These guys have battled all season long,” McMillan said. “And we’re going to be in games like this. It’s going to be like this for, I think, the rest of the season. Where it’s going to be close, it’s going to come down to the stretch, and we’re going to have to execute and be good in the fourth quarter.”

LaMarcus Aldridge and Juwan Howard scored a co-team high 16 points for Portland. Martell Webster added 14 points and four made 3-pointers, while Bayless and Rudy Fernandez contributed 12 apiece.

“It hurts,” Howard said. “It’s painful.”

Paul topped the Hornets (24-20) with game highs in points (24) and assists (12). He added seven rebounds, three made 3s and five steals.

New Orleans’ All-Star point guard picked apart the Blazers in the second half, scoring 17 points while dominating the final five minutes.

“We’re used to this,” Paul said. “We do this night in and night out. We don’t do any blowouts. We don’t believe in them.”

The Blazers outrebounded the Hornets 39-33 and outscored New Orleans 46-32 in the paint. In addition, Portland’s bench racked up 48 points, accounting for 49 percent of the team’s scoring.

McMillan praised reserves such as Fernandez and Howard, while stating that the insertion of forward Nicolas Batum — who played his first game of the season following shoulder surgery — gave Portland a spark.

But little made up for Roy’s absence in the fourth quarter.

And nothing was an answer for Paul.

The Blazers fell behind 22-8, leaving McMillan to observe that the contest initially felt like a road game.

And even when Portland manned up and attacked, it was not able to finish New Orleans off.

“We definitely have to take advantage of those opportunities when we’re shorthanded,” Blazers guard Andre
Miller said. “And we haven’t done that.”

Batum entered the game at the start of the second quarter. He finished with six points and one rebound. … The Blazers trail Denver by four games in the Northwest Division. … The Blazers are 2-3 in games decided by four points or less. … Webster’s 40 made 3s in January lead the NBA. … Bayless has scored in double digits in 11 of his last 20 games. … Portland’s nine made free throws tied a season low. … Howard’s 16 points tied a season high.

Best Blazer: Juwan Howard tied a season high with 16 points and added seven rebounds.
Big numbers: Portland was outscored 10-1 by New Orleans during the final three minutes.

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