Blazers beat Magic in overtime

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

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PORTLAND — The caution signs were there. Yellow triangles could have been posted throughout the Rose Garden, just to make sure the Trail Blazers got the point.

On Monday night, the Blazers, fresh from a successful road trip, returned to their home court with an Eastern Conference cupcake waiting to devour. It could have been a trap — the struggling Orlando Magic, possibly overlooked before the more exciting matchups later in the week. The setup has happened before.

However, the Blazers heeded the warning from their coach and survived an uncomfortable overtime game against the Magic, 125-119.

"When we go to overtime," Nicolas Batum said. "I don't know why (but) we're confident. We're like, 'OK, this is our game.' "

This confidence may perplex Batum, but he knows it's there with a team that is now 5-0 in overtime games.

"We have the best team in overtime now," Batum boasted.

The Blazers made winning plays, beginning with their team captain LaMarcus Aldridge, who snatched an offensive rebound and passed to Batum for a corner 3 late in regulation. Aldridge contributed 27 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Also, Damian Lillard stepped up as a closer once again, making smart decisions through the flow of the offense.

Four starters finished with double-doubles as the team recorded season-high marks in total points, points in the paint (60) as well as assists (34). Nifty numbers, for sure, but they don't compare to eight and 19. The consecutive games won inside the Rose Garden and the total of wins for one confident team.

The Blazers, 19-15, have now won four of their last five after taking road wins in New York, Memphis and Minnesota.

"We expect to win every game," said Wesley Matthews, the lone starter who did not reach the double-double mark but the one who led the team with four 3-pointers and finished with 24 points. "That's the mentality you have to have in this league."

The Blazers opened the overtime by scoring four consecutive points against the Magic (12-22), whose greatest deception is that the team has played good basketball during its current nine-game losing streak.

Though the Magic entered the night on a slide, JJ Redick came off the bench and in spite of the losing streak — or possibly because of it — launched jump shots with no fear for 29 points. Another bench player, Josh McRoberts (12 points) surpassed his season average by fourfold, and starting point guard Jameer Nelson showed veteran will by knocking down a game-tying 3-pointer to force the overtime.

"Second half and overtime, I thought was a fun game," coach Terry Stotts said. "I would have liked to have been a fan watching it."

But earlier in the day, "fun" was the last word Stotts would have used to describe the game. Stotts reminded players about the last time they returned from a long road trip and played their welcome-back game — a Dec. 8 awakening that shook the Blazers in a loss to the underwhelming Sacramento Kings.

"We knew what happened against Sac last month after a road trip," said Batum, who scored 16 and tied a season-high with 10 assists. "The first home game is trouble a little bit."

Lillard could not knock down the hero shot at the end of regulation but he glossed over that missed 3-pointer with a standout overtime performance.

Redick, with a rare drive inside the paint, tied the score at 112 with 2:19 left.

Lillard responded, keying a 6-0 run that began with a 21-foot pull-up jump shot. After a defensive stop, Lillard (18 points, 10 assists) then floated in a teardrop. Moments later, he pounced on a loose ball and sent a pass ahead to J.J. Hickson (20 points, 15 rebounds) for a fast break dunk for one of the Blazers' four assists through overtime.

Now, that the Magic have disappeared, the Blazers can turn attention to the defending NBA champion Miami Heat on Thursday night.

"We did the most to win this game and we got the win," Batum said. "Now we got a big game on Thursday, so we've got to be ready."