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Hibbert: Blazers no surprise

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard gets to the basket ahead of Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert during Monday night's Portland victory at Moda Center.Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert says he no longer thinks of the Trail Blazers as a surprise team.

After Portland's 106-102 win against the Pacers on Monday night, Hibbert talked about how the two franchises are similar.

“They’re a good team,” Hibbert said. “Just like our squad, they’ve been playing together for a while. (Wesley) Matthews, the ah, ah, ah … the French guy … (Nicolas) Batum, L.A. (LaMarcus Aldridge) and then (Damian) Lillard, their core, they’ve been together for a while. It’s just like a feel — like us."

The Blazers improved to 15-3, while the Pacers slipped to 16-2, still the best record in the NBA.

“You really have to tip your hat to teams that cultivate and grow their talent through the draft," Hibbert said. "They don’t just buy (players). They are on the same arc as us. They grew their talent and stuck with them.”

Before the 2012-13 season, the Blazers heavily wooed Hibbert on the free-agent market. And he says that every time he comes to Portland he thinks about what might have been and feels some nerves.

“I’m always nervous coming in here, just because ‘what if?,’ ” Hibbert said. “Things could’ve happened, and I could’ve been playing here.”

Nerves apparently weren't an adverse factor in Hibbert’s game Monday, as he was second to star Paul George in scoring for Indiana, getting 16 points.

The Pacers have been the NBA's best defensive team, allowing league lows in points (86.5 per game) and shooting percentage (.390) when they arrived at Moda Center.

After the Blazers became just the third team to score 100 points on them this season, the Pacers gave Portland credit for hitting tough shots.

“We play phenomenal defense,” George said. “Sometimes guys can just make tough shots with hands in their face. That was the case tonight. We’ve got to give guys credit for tough shot-making ability.”

Aldridge (28 points) and Lillard (26) led the Blazers attack.

“They made some big shots,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. “Aldridge and Lillard made some well-guarded, contested shots. You have to tip your cap to a team like that that’s going to make them.”

The Blazers also made 29 of 33 free throws. In the fourth quarter alone, Portland was 15 of 16.

“We marched them to the free-throw line in the fourth quarter," Vogel said. "If you do that against a team that’s third in the league in free-throw percentage, they’re going to get some easy points.”