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Blazers keep pace in West race

Portland reclaims chance at top spot with 110-102 win

The Associated Press

DENVER -- The Portland Trail Blazers, and Isaiah Rider in particular, had been in a shooting slump.

With playoff implications on the line, they weren't about to let it continue against the Denver Nuggets, a team ranked next-to-last in field goal defense and points allowed.

Portland beat the Nuggets 110-102 Sunday night and moved within a half-game of Utah for the top seed in the Western Conference.

The Trail Blazers shot 52 percent Sunday, after shooting 37 percent in a loss at San Antonio a day earlier.

Damon Stoudamire had 17 points and nine assists, Arvydas Sabonis and Rider, who was 30-for-87 in his previous seven games, each added 16 points as Portland had seven players score in double figures.

The difference was the way I was defensed. It was a first not getting double-teams, said Rider, who was 6-for-14 from the field. I always get double-teams. There wasn't anything different for me other than the final result.

Portland and San Antonio both have 35-13 records, while first-place Utah is 36-13.

J.R. gave us a big lift off the bench and made sweet passes and good decisions on the fast break, Portland coach Mike Dunleavy said. This win was important. Seeding is important because you like to get homecourt all the way through the playoffs where we are 22-2 at home.

Denver, which was paced by Chauncey Billups' 20 points, lost for the fifth consecutive time. Antonio McDyess added 18 points and 14 rebounds for the Nuggets, which shot 48 percent against a Portland team ranked fifth in field goal defense.

Our effort was spotty, but our defense was just plain bad, said Denver coach Mike D'Antoni. That's the 15th time in 48 games a team has shot over 50 percent against us and I don't think that's just luck.

Down 97-75 early in the fourth quarter after a 3-pointer by Rider, Denver went on a 16-3 run to close within 100-91 on Danny Fortson's reverse layup with 4:15 remaining.

Stoudamire answered with a 3-pointer and Rider made two free throws after a steal by Stoudamire. Rider's 3-pointer with 2:24 left increased Portland's lead to 108-94.

Leading 55-48 at halftime, Portland opened the third quarter with a 14-6 run.

When you play a team like Denver, which doesn't have anyone as big as Sabonis, it allows us to dump the ball into him and sit on our shots, Stoudamire said.

By doubling down on the Portland center, the Trail Blazers were able to find wide open shots and hit nine 3-pointers.

Denver, which was outscored 31-18 in the third quarter, got back within 71-60 with 4:58 left on a layup by Nick Van Exel. Greg Anthony hit successive 3-pointers in the last 30 seconds as the Trail Blazers took an 86-66 lead into the fourth quarter.

The Trail Blazers led by as many as 46-28 in the second quarter after starting the period with a 17-2 run. Van Exel finished a 10-0 run with a driving layup and free throw as the Nuggets outscored Portland 20-9 in the last 8:14 of the half.

I was terrible in the first half and we had a tough half, said Fortson, who finished with 17 points, 13 in the second half. We all played with some pride in the second half, but it wasn't enough.

NOTES: The game was originally scheduled to be played April 20, but was postponed after the Columbine High School shooting tragedy. ... Portland is 10-3 on the second night of back-to-back games. ... Denver had won 30 of 39 meetings with the Trail Blazers

in Denver before Sunday's loss. ... The Trail Blazers had 21 second-chance points. ... The Nuggets are 4-20 when they give up 100 points. ... Portland's Walt Williams missed the game with a sprained left ankle.