ATLANTA — The Portland Trail Blazers are getting healthy just in time. The same can’t be said for the reeling Atlanta Hawks.
Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge returned from a seven-game absence with a big game, leading the Blazers past the Hawks 100-85 on Thursday at Philips Arena.
Aldridge suffered a back injury after an ugly fall March 12 against the San Antonio Spurs. On Thursday, he scored a game-high 25 points and pulled down 16 rebounds in 32 minutes of action.
“We’re a whole different team with (Aldridge) back,” Portland point guard Damian Lillard said. “He’s our best player. He brings balance to our team. We had an inside presence and we were able to play inside-out, like we have all year. I just think with him out there, we just got more quality shots.”
The banged-up Hawks, who were without guard Kyle Korver (back) and center Pero Antic (ankle), got very little going on the inside and got off to a cold start from the outside, missing eight of their first nine 3-point attempts. They were down 53-37 at halftime.
Atlanta forward DeMarre Carroll sparked a third-quarter rally and got the Hawks back in the game with a 3-pointer that cut the Blazers’ lead to 58-52 with 6:55 left in the quarter.
Portland answered with a 13-0 run and took a 78-64 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Hawks made a couple of runs in the fourth quarter. Jumpers from Hawks center Mike Muscala and guard Lou Williams cut the Portland lead to six with seven minutes to play. But Portland always had an answer; most of the time it came from Aldridge.
A 3-point play from Aldridge ended an early fourth-quarter Hawks flurry and pushed the Blazers’ lead to double figures. A 3-pointer from Portland forward Nicolas Batum and putback from Aldridge squashed the final challenge from the Hawks.
Portland coach Terry Stotts said he didn’t know how much Aldridge would be able to go in Friday’s game at Chicago. Aldridge played in planned eight-minute spurts against the Hawks.
“I think that helped him, knowing when he was going to go back in,” Stotts said. “It allowed him with the heat packs to anticipate and prepare for when he was going back in.”
All five Portland starters finished in double figures in points, with Lillard scoring 21.
The Blazers (46-27) are one four teams within two games of each other for the last four spots in the Western Conference. Portland is fifth, four games behind the Houston Rockets for the fourth spot.
The Hawks (31-40) lead the New York Knicks by a game and a half for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta has been on a dismal stretch: 6-19 in the past 25 games.
“We’re fighting ourselves and digging ourselves out of a hole,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We need to be disciplined and focused. In those stretches where we’re not, it can hurt us and it can bite us.”
Point guard Jeff Teague led the Hawks with 22 points.
“We’re all professionals,” Teague said. “We’ve all be in similar situations as we’re in. We just have to stay positive.”
NOTES: Atlanta C Pero Antic (ankle) and G Kyle Korver (back) sat out Thursday’s games with injuries. … Portland F LaMarcus Aldridge (back) returned from a seven-game absence. The Trail Blazers went 3-4 in Aldridge’s absence. … Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was in attendance. … The Hawks, who lost Wednesday at Minnesota, are 6-13 on the second night of back-to-back games this season. … The Trail Blazers finish their five-game road trip at Chicago on Friday night.
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