Pep talk spurs Blazers past Hornets
NEW ORLEANS — LaMarcus Aldridge asserted himself in a halftime huddle with his Portland Trail Blazers teammates, imploring them to snap out of their recent funk.
Then he took his own advice.
Aldridge scored 16 of his game-high 22 points in the second half, and Portland snapped a three-game skid with an 84-77 victory over the slumping New Orleans Hornets on Monday.
"That was a good wake-up call by him," Portland forward Nicolas Batum said of Aldridge. "He took over the game and that's why he's our go-to guy."
Batum added 19 points in a reserve role and Gerald Wallace scored 14 for Portland, which blew open a tie game early in the third quarter with a 17-2 run during which Aldridge made all five of his shots for 10 points.
"I just started trying to be more attack-minded, going to basket, more confident," Aldridge said. "I felt like I was kind of hesitant in the first half, kind of just out there, so I just wanted to be more aggressive going to the basket and try to make things happen."
Aldridge made just one of his first seven shots before finishing 10 of 17 to go with nine rebounds. Wesley Matthews added 10 points for Portland.
Jarrett Jack scored 21, while Emeka Okafor added 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Hornets, who've lost four straight and 10 of 11.
The Hornets were plagued by poor perimeter shooting, going 0 of 9 from 3-point range, and turned the ball over 19 times.
"We've hit a funk. There's no denying that. But you have to continue to compete," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "We get to play basketball and we get paid. ... A lot of people would love to have our problems. ... You've got to keep fighting and value your occupation and take it seriously."
After trailing by 17 points in the fourth quarter, the Hornets pulled to 79-71 on Okafor's short baseline jumper with under 3 minutes to go. But Batum responded with a 3 with 2:25 left to make it 82-71, and the Hornets were unable to threaten after that.
"Sure it was ugly but we needed a win and we'll take it," Portland coach Nate McMillan said. "We know we can play better and we know we'll have to play better, but we're happy with the win."
The score was tied at 37 when Jason Smith hit a jumper in the opening minute of the second half. Aldridge then began Portland's decisive run with a jumper, tip-in and an inside basket in quick succession. Aldridge added another bucket inside and a smooth 11-foot turnaround fade from the baseline during the surge, which Matthews capped with a 3 to make it 54-39.
While Portland struggled to find its shooting touch in a tight first half, the Blazers made 54 percent (19 of 35) of their field goals in the second, and outshot New Orleans 47 percent (34 of 72) to 41 percent (28 of 68) for the game. They also combined for 25 assists, 12 by Raymond Felton.
Chris Kaman scored 12 points for the Hornets but made only 6 of his 15 shots.
"We've all got to look in the mirror and see where we need to step up," Kaman said. "It's definitely tough. We've been doing a good job defensively so that's all you can ask for. We've got to get better with our offense and do a better job taking care of the basketball."
Batum, who had 10 of his points in the first half, and Kurt Thomas, who added eight points, helped the Blazers take an early lead that they maintained through the first two quarters.
Portland led by as much as nine but squandered chances to pull farther ahead while the Hornets were plagued by a pair of 0-for-7 shooting slumps, as well as an 0-for-5 start from 3-point range, during the first two quarters.
Mexican rookie Gustavo Ayon came off the bench in the second quarter to help the Hornets close the gap. In his first eight minutes on the floor, he made his first three shots, grabbed three rebounds and had a steal.
His driving layup off the glass pulled the Hornets to 32-28. Then Jack, who scored 10 before halftime, pulled New Orleans to 37-35 at the break with a jumper and a pair of free throws.