Blazers crash, burn in defeat

By Brian T. Smith, Columbian Sports Writer

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— PORTLAND — The Trail Blazers are sliding backward as the All-Star break approaches.

And after playing resilient, inspired basketball during the first half of the season, an unending series of injuries and the absence of Brandon Roy appear to be wearing down Portland — and making a serious dent in the team’s fight for a Western Conference spot.

The Blazers fell to Oklahoma City, 89-77, Tuesday evening in a Northwest Division matchup at the Rose Garden before a sold-out crowd of 20,460.

Portland coach Nate McMillan referred to the loss as “embarrassing.”

But McMillan hesitated when asked if the Blazers are running on empty, saying “I won’t go there” several times.

However, he added that a pregame scene that included numerous Portland players drinking Red Bull energy drinks before tipoff was not a good sign.

“We just were flat. Weren’t sharp at all,” McMillan said. “Mentally, it didn’t seem like we were here.”

Portland fell behind 15-2 in the first quarter. The Blazers rallied to outscore Oklahoma City in the second and third periods. But a 30-16 Thunder fourth quarter saw Oklahoma City soar and Portland quietly slink away.

While LaMarcus Aldridge acknowledged that the Blazers (30-24) were flat and indecisive, Martell Webster said his team’s third defeat in its last four games came down to execution, not effort.

All three of Portland’s recent losses have been by at least 12 points.

Webster stated that his teammates utilize energy drinks as part of a pregame ritual, and said he was among the “superstitious” who prefer the drink.

To Webster, Portland is still showing fight and playing with its heart on its sleeve. The Blazers are not worn down. They just are missing shots and not converting plays they normally make.

“These guys definitely go out there, and we play until the end of the horn,” Webster said.

But even Webster acknowledged that the Thunder’s ability to at times dominate and have its way with a chameleon-like Portland defense tested his team’s limits.

“Tonight’s game was an embarrassment,” Webster said. “But I think we’re right there. I don’t think we’ve lost anything. I’m very confident in my teammates, as well as myself.”

Andre Miller scored a team-high 22 points, recorded six rebounds and dished out six assists to lead the Blazers. Aldridge added 15 points and a game-high 15 rebounds, while rookie Dante Cunningham scored a season high 14 points.

But it was Thunder (30-21) forward Kevin Durant who stole the show. The No. 2 overall pick of the 2007 NBA Draft came into the contest tied for second in the NBA in average scoring with 29.7 points.

During a pregame interview, McMillan said Durant has almost become unguardable.

The former Texas standout did nothing to alter McMillan’s assertion, and he did not disappoint.

Durant poured in a game-high 33 points on 12-of-25 shooting, while grabbing a team-high 11 rebounds.

But Durant said he received no extra motivation playing against a Portland team that chose center Greg Oden instead of him with the first pick in the 2007 Draft.

“I’m sure (they’re) past it, and I have, too,” Durant said. “I’m happy I’m here. And it was a good win for us in a hostile environment.”

The Blazers shot 40.3 percent (31 of 77) from the field, and just 15 percent (3 of 20) behind the 3-point line.

However, it was 24 Portland turnovers that resulted in 30 points for the Thunder that did the Blazers in, McMillan said.

“Your mind is not here,” said McMillan, referring to the amount of turnovers.

And Portland’s coach was left to think of ways to motivate his team as it prepares for one last game before the All-Star break.

“You should be ready to go after the way we played tonight,” McMillan said. “It shouldn’t be hard to get yourself ready to go.”

Notes

• Prior to Tuesday’s loss, the Blazers had won 44 consecutive games when holding opponents to 90 points or fewer.

• Tuesday’s crowd marked the 100th consecutive home sellout for the Blazers.

• Portland guard Steve Blake suffered a chin laceration that required five stitches.

• After receiving his first start of the season, Blazer forward Nicolas Batum began the second half on the bench.

• Webster, who was dealing with flu-like symptoms, fell hard to the floor with 10:20 left in the third quarter. He jumped up to defend a layup attempt, fell about five feet, and landed directly on his back. Webster suffered a back contusion during the fall, but returned to the court. He said he will able to play tonight at Phoenix.

• Aldridge tied a career high with four steals.