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Blazers win, by George, and match West's best record

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Blazers guard Damian Lillard keeps it loose during a first-half timeout.Paul George was unconscious. Everyone in the Moda Center could see it. Would it be enough to beat the Trail Blazers?

Not hardly. As Indiana's George was bombing in 3-pointer after 3-pointer in the closing three minutes, Portland was making free throws -- 11 of 12 -- to go with a jumper by LaMarcus Aldridge and a trey by Damian Lillard.

It was just enough to carry the Blazers to a 106-102 victory over the Pacers Monday night, a win that gave Portland (15-3) the same record as San Antonio atop the NBA's Western Conference.

Terry Stotts -- earlier in the day honored as the West's coach of the month for November -- did his best to downplay the significance of the win over the team with the league's best record (now 16-2).

"Beating a quality team is important," Stotts said, "but you don't win a championship with one game. The season isn't even a quarter through. What I'm pleased about is our growth as a team. This was our most consistent game from beginning to end, with execution and effort.

"I don't think you make statement games in December. We beat a good team at home. It's something to be proud of, but we have another great team (Oklahoma City) coming in on Wednesday. We just have to keep rolling along."

The triumph was another indication of Portland's progress. There is no denying now the Blazers' presence among the NBA's elite.

"It's indicative of the job Terry has done," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said before the game. "They've taken a dramatic leap defensively from where they were last year. The trade for (Robin) Lopez has solidified them there. They're scoring at a really high level.

"The Blazers are more real now than they were three weeks ago. Three weeks, a month from now, they'll be even more real. I think they're here to stay."

George did his best to keep Indiana's seven-game win streak going, going for a career-high 43 points, including 15 -- on five 3-pointers -- over the final 2:56.

"It was like he could do whatever he wanted," said Portland's Nicolas Batum, given the responsibility of attempting to slow down George. "He was going to make his shots. He's in the top five (among NBA players), for sure. He's an MVP candidate so far.

"We tried to make him work. We did make him work. He made some tough shots. He did a great job tonight, but we still got a win."

The Blazers won on a night when they didn't lead for one second of the first three quarters. They hung close enough, though, to never let Indiana's lead get into double figures. They trailed 46-45 at the half and tied the count at 72-72 after three quarters.

Lillard's 3-pointer gave Portland its first lead at 75-72 and kicked off a 9-2 spurt that gave the Blazers an 81-74 advantage. The Pacers never led again, though they whittled the margin to 98-96 in the final two minutes.

The issue wasn't decided until Batum made one of two free throws with 9.4 seconds to go to provide the final score.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Indiana Pacers center Ian Mahinmi blocks the path of Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard in Portland's homecourt victory Monday night."We stayed in the game," said Lillard, who scored 26 points, making 7 of 17 shots from the field but 10 of 10 from the foul line. "We didn't have a lead, but we didn't get behind too far.

"It was just up to us to turn it up. (At the start of the fourth quarter) we sped up the game, (Aldridge) got going on the block, momentum started going in our direction, and we closed it out."

Lillard was asked if it was Portland's best win of the season.

"It's up there," he said. "We knew it was going to be a tough one. (The Pacers) had only one loss. We wanted to show we're a good team, too. We knew it was going to be a slugfest, and we stayed the course."

The Blazers were trying to take the victory in stride. They love their start but know there is plenty of basketball to be played.

"We're happy, but not that excited," said Batum, who finished with eight points, five rebounds and five assists in 36 minutes. "We have a big game coming up (with OKC). It's 18 games only. We haven't done anything. It's not like we're 50-10; we're 15-3. It's nothing yet.

"But we keep growing. We're learning. We keep fighting and we keep moving forward. And right now, we're pretty good."

NOTES: It was only the second time Indiana has given up 100 points this season. … George was 16 for 30 from the field, 7 for 15 from 3-point range and 4 for 4 from the line in his 38 minutes. … Aldridge scored a team-high 28 points on 11-for-19 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds for his eight double-double of the season. … George (15) and Aldridge (14) lead the NBA in 20-point games this season. … Former Blazers coach Nate McMillan made his return to Portland as an assistant coach for Vogel. "It's great to have Nate, with him having the head coach's mindset with the number of games he's coached," said Vogel, named Monday as the NBA's Eastern Conference coach of the month for November. "It's not just in games, but with all the decisions that go into being a head coach -- from managing your video guys, to your travel schedule, to when to practice, when not to practice, when to rest guys, how to use your rotation. … He's been there in that seat and been very successful. He's meant a great deal to me."

Portland is off to its best 18-game start since 1990-91, when it started 17-1. The Blazers last started 15-3 in 1998-99. … Portland is 8-0 against Eastern Conference opponents this season. … Asked pregame how he felt about the two coaches squaring off on the day they were honored, Vogel quipped, "I like it. I always feel like you're getting jinxed if you get that award. We can't both be jinxed -- I have a 50 percent chance" to win. … Indiana entered the game with an NBA-best 16-1 record, Portland with a 14-3 mark. It was the first time teams with such high winning percentages after 15 games had met since 1993. … George came in ranked fourth in the NBA in scoring at 23.8 points per game. "I heard (Clippers) Doc Rivers say he got most improved player last year, and he could get it again this year, because he's made another jump," Stotts said. "George is playing at an all-star, All-NBA level." Should George be considered for the league's most valuable player award? "The MVP should go to the best player on one of the best teams," Vogel said. "If we can sustain our team success … with what Paul does on the defensive end every night contributing to the league's best defense … he and Roy (Hibbert) are probably battling it out for the Defensive Player of the Year award. To do that and all of a sudden be in the top five in scoring? I don't see how he's not in the MVP conversation."

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