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Blazers need late rally to beat Clippers, tie for third in Western Conference

LOS ANGELES -- A night after an emotional victory over the best team in the Western Conference, the Portland Trail Blazers looked sluggish in the first half against one of the league's worst.

Coach Nate McMillan challenged his players when down by two in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers, and his young team answered.

LaMarcus Aldridge scored 21 points, Joel Przybilla added 10 points and 14 rebounds, and the Blazers beat the Clippers 87-72 on Saturday night to tie for third place in the Western Conference.

The Trail Blazers needed a late rally to beat the lowly Clippers, who were up by two with 7:44 remaining. The win came a day after Portland beat the Lakers at home.

"We weren't sharp but we kept fighting and we had some guys to step up in the second half and break it open. If I had a hat, I would tip it to our guys because they've just been gutting it out," McMillan said. "To pull out this game tonight after an emotional game in our building last night against the Lakers and just find a way to stay together and win was huge for us."

The win was huge in the standings, too.

Portland tied Houston for the No. 3 seed with its fourth straight victory and the Trail Blazers also pulled within a game of Northwest Division leader Denver, which is second in the West.

The Blazers made their win over the Lakers look easy compared to the effort they came out with against the Clippers on Saturday night.

So why was this game so difficult?

"We were a little flat," Portland's Steve Blake said.

"Some nights they're just not falling at first. They were playing behind in the post and a lot of teams front us, but we just didn't take advantage of our opportunities."

Maybe it was the fourth game in five nights?

"Maybe," Greg Oden said. "Maybe guys need a day off."

Or the big win over the Lakers?

"That can definitely be it. I think guys are a little tired," said Oden, who finished with four points and six rebounds.

Eric Gordon had 18 for the Clippers, who have lost seven of their last eight.

Los Angeles, down most of the game, took its first lead since the first quarter when Gordon scored on a layup to make it 68-66.

Brian Skinner came off the bench to rally the Clippers with an impressive effort on both sides of the court. He lofted a hook shot to start a 10-0 run for Los Angeles and blocked both Oden and Travis Outlaw's attempts at dunks in the paint.

But Portland went on an 18-0 run, keyed by two 3-pointers from Rudy Fernandez, and the Clippers failed to score for more than five minutes until Baron Davis had a layup to make it 84-70.

"We missed a lot of point-blank shots and then we had some wide open 3s that we didn't make. They didn't make a lot of 3s but they had it when it counted," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said.

The Clippers came out of the gate in the second half on a 13-3 run, sparked by Davis, Zach Randolph and Marcus Camby, to slice into a 46-31 halftime lead.

Randolph, back after serving a two-game suspension because of a suspected DUI conviction, finished with 13 while Davis added 12.

Los Angeles got within six with 3:05 remaining in the third quarter when Fred Jones hit a deep 3, but Blake kept hitting shots for Portland. Blake, who had all of his 10 points in the third, sank a 25-footer of his own to make it 61-52.

"We ran out of gas. I shot pretty well but it's just tough," Gordon said. "We had a good comeback, we just couldn't overcome it. They had a couple of easy baskets and that just wore us down."

Portland got off to a 1-for-9 start while the Clippers stitched together a 9-2 run to take an early 12-7 lead. But Brandon Roy and Aldridge helped launch Portland on a 21-6 run late in the second quarter. Roy had a free throw with 6:43 to start it and added a slam dunk and a layup while Aldridge added five points, four in the paint, during that stint.

The Clippers broke down on the defensive end during the final 1:37 of the period as the Trail Blazers railed off four straight buckets while penetrating the lane.

Game notes
The Clippers failed to win two in a row for the first time since Feb. 25. ... McMillan says rest has been key for the Trail Blazers during the last stretch of the season. "We've worked on recovery all year long and giving guys days off and that has really come into play this last month," he said. ... The Clippers' Al Thornton has a torn tendon in his right shoulder, something that won't require surgery.