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In the end, it's the Blazers, by inches

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Damian Lillard goes for a layup against the Phoenix Suns.Sometimes the balance of an NBA game can hang on the whims of a basketball.

Jeff Hornacek would swear to that after watching the final seconds tick off of his Phoenix Suns' 90-89 loss to the Trail Blazers Wednesday night at the Moda Center.

Phoenix guard Eric Bledsoe -- one of the few players who could hit the broad side of the barn on this night -- drove the key with a chance to score the game-winning basket after a timeout with 6.5 seconds on the clock.

Bledsoe's driving layup hung on the rim -- and dropped off. Two subsequent tip-in attempts hung on the rim -- and dropped off.

"It seemed like that was the longest time of my life," said Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge, who wound up on the floor, with the ball in his hands, as the final horn sounded, touching off a wild celebration among the Blazers and pandemonium among the arena denizens.

Hornacek felt Bledsoe should have been at the free-throw line after his attempt at a game-winner.

"Eric probably got fouled on the layup, and then we had two tip-ins that were point blank," Hornacek said. "That's the way it goes. You're going to win some of those close games, and lose some."

Damian Lillard scored the game-winning basket after Stotts had called for time with 11.3 seconds left and Phoenix ahead 89-88. Lillard came off a high pick-and-roll with Aldridge, and it was astonishing how open the second-year point guard was as he drove to the basket for an uncontested layup.

"Damian was aggressive, L.A. set a good screen, and it was like the Red Sea parted," Stotts said.

"We picked them up too high, and (Lillard) got that running start," Hornacek said. "Our big didn't slow him down at all. Then after he got by, all the (other Phoenix defenders) didn't want to give up a 3."

Lillard couldn't have asked for an easier path to the basket.

"I turned the corner and was like, 'It's wide open. I'm going to get to the rim,' " he said. "I was pretty sure about myself getting all the way there. I missed a couple that were right at the rim, but that was the one that counted."

Then the Blazers had to agonize through the final few seconds as the Suns three times failed to convert a potential game-winner.

"That was a long six seconds," Portland's Wesley Matthews said. "I think we had a foul to give, too.

"I guess we earned the win. We fought through not playing very well. (The Suns) played well, and we took a lot of their punches and continued to play hard, and the ball bounced our way."

Stotts was standing near the Blazer bench, his stomach in knots, as the denouement unfolded.

"You're just waiting for the horn to go off, hoping (the shot) doesn't go in, hoping to see the red lights on the backboard," he said.

The Blazers' top two scorers, Aldridge and Lillard, combined to make 9 of 32 shots from the field, including 3 of 14 in the first half. And they still won.

"Every win's not going to be pretty," said Aldridge, who missed his first six shots and finished 5 for 19. "Good teams learn how to win ugly games. Tonight was an ugly game. (The Suns) missed shots, we missed shots, and in the end, our defense prevailed."

Phoenix shot .430 from the field, Portland .417. Each team took only 15 3-point attempts, with the Blazers making six, the Suns five. In the end, that proved the difference as Portland (6-2) won for the fourth straight time.

"I love an offensive game," Stotts said. "I love scoring a lot of points. For us to be the type of team we want to be this season, these are the type of games we have to find a way to win. We did it with some defense, with some toughness, with hitting some shots when we needed them."

Phoenix -- which beat Portland 104-91 in the season opener -- led much of the way Wednesday night. The Suns (5-3) were on top 25-22 after one quarter, 43-41 at the half and by 77-69 early in the fourth quarter when a pivotal play occurred.

The Suns' Goran Dragic -- who was picking up steam after a slow start -- and the Blazers' Mo Williams bumped heads chasing a loose ball. Williams lay on the floor for a few seconds before getting up. Dragic immediately headed to the locker room and never returned. He required 13 stitches to close a cut above his left eye.

Portland went on a 9-0 run to seize a 78-77 lead. Phoenix made only six more baskets the rest of the way.

"It wasn't looking good for a long time," Stotts said. "We didn't have much going offensively. On a night when the ball wasn't going in the basket, it was good to get a win with our defense."

The biggest lift was provided by reserve forward Thomas Robinson, who made 6 of 9 shots from the field and provided 15 points and eight rebounds in 17 productive minutes.

T-Rob also came up with the play of the game, a one-hand put-back jam that started Portland's 9-0 surge and brought the house down.

"Things could have gone either way at that point," Lillard said. "He dunked it, everybody got excited, the crowd got behind him. … It made us believe a little bit more."

Robinson, Lillard said, "was aggressive attacking the glass and finishing strong. That's what we need. We need him to come in and give us that type of effort and be that type of presence in the paint. He'll make us a better team."

Added center/forward Joel Freeland: "Thomas was huge. He was one of the main reasons we won the game."

Portland now embarks on a four-game, six-day trip that begins Friday at Boston leading the Northwest Division and with the Western Conference's second-best record behind San Antonio (8-1).

"It's a chance to pull away from some teams out here in the West," Matthews said. "We're playing good basketball. We feel confident we can beat any team we play. We feel confident on the road.

"It feels good to be playing this way after we ended last season on a 13-game losing streak."

NOTES: It required 13 stitches to close the cut on Dragic's forehead. … Robin Lopez (13 points, a career-high 15 rebounds) and Aldridge (12 points, 12 rebounds) each recorded his third straight double-double. … Aldridge started the game 0 for 6, got a dunk in the final seconds of the first half and finished 5 for 19. "I thought I was going to miss every shot of the night," the two-time all-star said. "Then Dame got me the dunk, and I started feeling a little bit better. But that first half, I felt out of sync." … Robinson's 15 points matched his career high. … Portland won with its leading scorer tallying 15 points or fewer for the first time since 2004.

Bledsoe was the game's offensive star, scoring 23 points with six assists. Stotts used 6-8 Nicolas Batum to guard the 6-1 Bledsoe on the game's final possession. Batum made it just tough enough that Bledsoe missed the potential game-winner. … Phoenix pulled a hack-a-T-Rob, fouling Robinson intentionally late in the game. He made 1 of 2 free throws then but was 3 for 9 for the game. … Bad Move I: In the first half, the Suns' Marcus Morris fouled Robinson on a desperation 3-point attempt with less than a second on the shot clock. Robinson made only one of three gift shots, though. Bad move II: Phoenix's Miles Plumlee clanked a dunk attempt off the rim so hard, the ball bounced out nearly to midcourt in the third quarter. … Lillard finished the game 4 for 13 from the field, with 11 points and eight assists in 35 minutes.

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