Basketball / Sports

The Portland Trailblazers' Damian Lillard drives against the Los Angeles Clippers' Hedo Turkoglu, top, and DeAndre Jordan, left, during the first half at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (Michael Robinson Chavez/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Clippers defeat Trail Blazers in back-and-forth thriller

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers won an important game over a Portland Trail Blazers team that was ahead of them in the ultra-competitive Western Conference when the night started.

Los Angeles' 122-117 victory Wednesday night at Staples Center still left the Clippers as the fourth seed in the West going into this weekend's All-Star break.

The Clippers improved to 37-18 and passed the Trail Blazers, but they were leapfrogged by the Houston Rockets, who moved from the fifth spot into the third spot after they defeated the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.

The Pacific Division-leading Clippers have a 67.3 percent winning percentage to Houston's 67.9 percent. It's that close.

Portland (36-17), which is second to Oklahoma City in the Northwest Division, dropped from third in the West to fifth.

"With what we've gone through with injuries -- and so have other teams, not just us -- you like where we're at," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "And you know the chances of us getting a lot better are very likely, and that's good."

The Clippers were good because Blake Griffin had 36 points and 10 rebounds, Jamal Crawford had 25 points and Chris Paul had 20 points and 12 assists in his second game back after missing five weeks with a separated right shoulder.

The Trail Blazers were good because All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge had 25 points and Damian Lillard had 21 points and five assists.

But Lillard also had six turnovers, one late that spelled the end for the Trail Blazers.

"It just felt like nobody could get a handle on the game," Rivers said.

Maybe they couldn't get a handle, but they could find the basket. The Clippers shot 58.2 percent from the field to 51.2 percent for the Trail Blazers.

The Clippers and Trail Blazers went back and forth in the fourth quarter, neither team backing down, the lead never bigger than four points and that was early in the fourth.

Even after DeAndre Jordan made two free throws for a 114-113 Clippers lead with 3:25 left, the Trail Blazers responded.

Lillard, who was in foul trouble all game, made two free throws to give the Trail Blazers a 115-114 lead with 3:16 left.

Paul scored and assisted on a Griffin layup for a 118-115 lead.

Aldridge scored on a layup to cut the deficit to one, and Paul missed two free throws.

However, Paul made up for that by stealing the ball from Lillard. Matt Barnes then fed Jordan for a dunk and a 120-117 Clippers lead.

The Trail Blazers called a timeout with 27.4 seconds left to set up a play, but Nicolas Batum missed a three-pointer, and Crawford's two free throws were the final points.

"It was a good win," Rivers said. "It was frustrating probably for both coaches where you just felt like, 'God, we can get away from them.' And every time we thought we would, they would take the lead. It was just one of those games."

The Clippers are off until Tuesday when they play San Antonio.

(c)2014 Los Angeles Times

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