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Blazers hold on to best Clippers, 101-100

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Nicolas Batum held on to the game ball long after the confetti celebrating Portland's victory stopped falling from the rafters of the Rose Garden.

Batum had 20 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high 12 assists - for his second triple-double in three games - and the Trail Blazers edged the Los Angeles Clippers 101-100 on Saturday night.

Batum had his first career triple-double on Monday in Portland's 98-95 loss to Washington. He had 12 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.

But that one didn't quite mean as much.

``It's a better taste when you win the game,'' he said following the victory, the ball sitting in front of his locker.

It was the fourth straight loss for the Clippers, who played without guard Chris Paul for the third consecutive game with a bruised right kneecap.

The game was the first of a back-to-back between the two teams, who meet again in Los Angeles on Sunday night.

The Clippers trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half but they reclaimed the lead in the fourth quarter and held off the Blazers until Wesley Matthews pulled Portland within 100-99 with a layup and free throw.

J.J. Hickson made a pair of foul shots to give the Blazers back the lead with 45 seconds left and Jamal Crawford missed a 19-foot jumper for the Clippers with 0.9 seconds left for the final margin.

``I'll take that shot 10 out of 10 and I'll make it nine out of 10,'' Crawford said.

Batum grabbed the rebound of Crawford's final shot and encircled the ball tightly with both arms. He wouldn't even relinquish his hold when rookie Damian Lillard embraced him.

``I can't promise a triple-double every week, but I try to do something and help the team to win every game,'' Batum said.

Blake Griffin had 24 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds for the Clippers, just shy of his third career triple-double.

``Tough pill to swallow,'' Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. ``We had an opportunity to steal this one and we couldn't convert down the stretch.''

The Clippers are 3-3 in the six total games Paul has missed because of his kneecap. Del Negro said it was unclear when Paul might return.

Asked if Los Angeles missed him against the Blazers, Del Negro said simply: ``Chris is our closer.''

Eric Bledsoe once again started in the All-Star guard's place.

There also was uncertainty before the game about whether Griffin would play because of a sore left ankle. He tweaked it early in the Clippers' 93-88 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Thursday.

Portland was coming off a 100-80 victory Wednesday night over the Indiana Pacers that snapped a six-game losing streak.

The Blazers' victory against the Pacers also snapped a four-game losing streak at the Rose Garden. Forward LaMarcus Aldridge had 27 points against Indiana and the next day was selected as an All-Star Game reserve. He will join Paul and Griffin on the West team for the game on Feb. 17 in Houston.

The Clippers pulled ahead 15-9 early, but Portland pulled in front briefly after Lillard's 3-pointer and Jared Jeffries' dunk made it 16-15. Portland reclaimed the lead to go into the second quarter ahead 25-22.

Aldridge's layup and free throw put the Blazers ahead 33-25. But the Rose Garden crowd stood when rookie Will Barton threw down Ronnie Price's fast-break lob to make it 38-25.

Portland maintained a 51-45 advantage at the break.

The Clippers came out with more urgency to start in the second half and Caron Butler's 3-pointer narrowed Portland's lead to 59-52. But Los Angeles really began to close the gap late in the third quarter when Crawford's 3-pointer pulled them within 80-74.

Hill's 3-pointer and Matt Barnes' layup pulled the Clippers within 84-83 with 8:54 left in the game. Crawford hit a pair of free throws to give Los Angeles its first lead since the first quarter, but it was short-lived and Batum hit a 3-pointer for the Blazers.

Portland clung to a narrow lead until Matt Barnes' tip-in, Griffin's hook and Crawford's short jumper gave the Clippers a 94-89 lead with 4:46 left.

Lillard, who hit a key 3-pointer that helped the Blazers make up ground in the final minutes, finished with 20 points. Matthews added 18.

Crawford had 19 points off the bench for the Clippers.

Notes: The Clippers have been without guard Chauncey Billups since Dec. 5 because of tendinitis in his left foot. Billups, Del Negro said, is improving, although there is still no timetable for his return. ... Del Negro said he thought Clippers sixth man Jamal Crawford - who played for the Blazers last year - should have made the All-Star team. Crawford is averaging 16.7 points and playing starter's minutes (29.3 per game) with the Clippers. ``Obviously I'm biased,'' Del Negro said. ``Jamal has been fantastic for us.''

The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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