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By the skin of their teeth, Blazers get past Bucks

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Damian Lillard dunks in overtime to help the Trail Blazers defeat the Milwaukee Bucks.As he met with media before Tuesday night's game with woebegone Milwaukee, Terry Stotts was asked if he'd like to get a victory in a game that didn't go down to the wire.

"I don't care how it comes," the Trail Blazers coach said. "If we win a down-to-the-wire game, that's as good as a win by 20. It's just important that we get the win."

The Blazers got it, but the margin between a 120-115 overtime victory at the Moda Center and their most unsightly loss of the season was the length of a gnat's eyelash.

Milwaukee (13-55), owner of the NBA's worst record, fought Portland (44-24) tooth and nail in a game that saw 23 lead changes and 15 ties.

The Bucks led 98-96 after reserve guard Ramon Sessions sank one of two free throws with 10.6 seconds left in regulation. Portland called timeout.

The Blazers got the ball to Damian Lillard, who on the previous possession had missed a driving layup that could have given Portland the lead.

Lillard again took the inbound pass, and this time he got to the basket and curled a reverse layup over the rim and down with 4.9 seconds left to tie the score.

Sessions' 3-point attempt bounced off the rim as regulation time expired, and it was on to overtime.

Milwaukee led 103-102 with 2:36 remaining in the extra session, but Lillard -- bursting out of what had been his most ineffective game of the season -- scored nine of Portland's next 12 points to forge a 114-107 lead with 25.2 ticks left. When it was over, the Blazers had scored a franchise-record 22 points in the extra five minutes and won for only the second time in the last seven outings.

The Bucks -- who have lost five straight and eight of nine -- could have wrapped things up in regulation if they'd taken care of business at the foul line. They missed 1 of 2 attempts at the line four straight times over the final 1:42 of the fourth quarter -- two misses each by Sessions, who scored 23 points, and Brandon Knight, who had a team-high 24.

"They gave us a new lease on life," said Mo Williams, whose season-high 23 points off the bench was instrumental in Portland's victory. "We were down. We were like, 'We can't believe this. We needed this game.' We knew the magnitude of it.

"Once we got to overtime, it was like, 'Whoo, we got the 48 (minutes) behind us. Let's go out and win this game.' "

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Trail Blazers center Robin Lopez blocks a layup attempt by Brandon Knight of the Milwaukee Bucks.The Blazers are fighting for positioning in the tight playoff race. After a disheartening 113-112 home loss to Golden State on Sunday night, a defeat at the hands of the lowly Bucks would have been a punch in the gut for the local quintet.

"It was important for us to do all the little things down the stretch to secure that win," said center Robin Lopez, who finished with 15 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots for his 26th double-double of the season. "It would have been nice to see that the whole game long, but … we knew we had to win that game.

"In overtime, our shots were falling. We became more aggressive. At that point, we looked at each other and said, 'We're not losing this game.' "

Portland had just enough to win, but it wasn't aesthetic. The Bucks opened an early 18-11 lead and never let a deficit slip into double digits against a Blazer team that, at times, looked as if it was going through the motions.

"Give Milwaukee a lot of credit," Stotts said. "(The Bucks) have had a long season. (Coach) Larry Drew has done a great job of keeping them competing and playing hard. They played hard the whole way. But we didn't come out with the urgency we needed. … I hope we understand we were very fortunate to win the game."

The Blazers won without All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who missed his third straight game with a sore back. They won shooting only .433 from the field and making only 12 of 39 3-point attempts -- one short of their season high.

And they did it on a night when Lillard was missing in action much of the way. The All-Star point guard started the game 1 for 10 from the field and, through three quarters, had five points. He finally got the battery charged late, scoring 15 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and overtime.

"We're not happy with the way we played," said Portland guard Wesley Matthews, who scored a game-high 26 points, sinking 8 of 15 shots from the field, 5 of 7 from 3-point range and 5 of 5 at the line. The Bucks "played hard. That doesn't pardon our performance. We have to come out with urgency every game, man. That's the way we have to play going into the postseason."

Asked if he was frustrated, Matthews shook his head.

"We're not frustrated," he said. "We won. But we showed a little bit of sloppiness. We were kind of nonchalant out there, going through the motions. Overconfident. Not necessarily cocky, but we didn't play up to par."

Nicolas Batum was a one-man show early, scoring 14 of Portland's first 18 points and 16 in the first quarter. He finished just short of his fifth career triple-double with 21 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in 44 minutes.

"Nic kept us afloat in the first half," Stotts said. "We didn't have a lot of offense going. He was making his shots, looking to be aggressive. We needed his offense in the first half. The second half, his shot wasn't going, but he rebounded and assisted."

"I was a scorer in the first half, an assist guy in the second half," Batum said. "Sometimes, that's what I have to do."

Victories have not come easily lately for the Blazers, who are 2-7 in games decided by two points or fewer. So winning a close one was rewarding.

"We've lost some games we should have won," Williams said. "I just take this as a win. We have to move on. We can say we didn't do this, we didn't do that, but they played really well. We ground out a win without our best player."

Batum seemed eager to quickly put Tuesday's game in the rear-view mirror and put Thursday night's Moda Center date with Washington in focus.

"That was a weird game," he said. "We got a win. Move on. Don't want to talk about it now. Let's talk about Washington, starting" Wednesday.

NOTES: Portland closes a three-game homestand against the Wizards, 35-32 after a 117-111 overtime loss at Sacramento Tuesday night. … The Blazers need to go 6-8 over their final 14 games to secure a 50-win season. … Portland's 22 points in overtime was the highest total in the NBA since 2011. … Portland is 20-4 against Eastern Conference opposition, the best mark by any West team this season. … Lillard joins Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Kyrie Irving as the only players to score 3,000 points in their first 150 games. Lillard has scored 3,002 points in his 150 career games, a 20.0 average. He joins Geoff Petrie and Sidney Wicks as the only Blazers to hit the 3,000-point mark in his first 150 games.… Lillard, who finished 7 for 21 from the field, was 1 for 11 from 3-point range. He has scored 20 points or more in six straight games. … Dorell Wright, starting for Aldridge, was 0 for 8 from the field, including 0 for 7 from 3-point range.

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