PORTLAND, Ore. – This season is not a lost cause to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Nicolas Batum had 24 points and the new-look Blazers held off the Memphis Grizzlies 97-93 on Thursday night. Jamal Crawford added 17 points, including four clutch free throws in the final seconds as Portland snapped a two-game skid to even to 2-2 under interim head coach Kaleb Canales.
There had been plenty of speculation that the obviously rebuilding Blazers were just hoping to finish out the season the best they could after dismissing head coach Nate McMillan and trading away a pair of starters. The Blazers went into the night with nine losses in their last 12 games.
"We never felt like that," LaMarcus Aldridge proclaimed after scoring 16 points in the win.
Marc Gasol's layup for Memphis narrowed it to 91-88 with 2:15 to go. Neither side could get a shot to fall as time wound down, but Wesley Matthews made two free throws for Portland before Mike Conley's 3-pointer kept the Grizzlies close at 93-91.
Crawford's two free throws with 13 seconds left gave Portland some cushion and after O.J. Mayo made a layup for the Grizzlies, Crawford added two more for the final margin.
Rudy Gay missed a 3 at the buzzer for Memphis.
"We're still in this," said Matthews, who had 18 points and nine rebounds. "We fully believe will make the playoffs."
Gasol finished with 22 points and nine rebounds for the Grizzlies, who have lost four of their last five games.
Memphis saw the debut of Gilbert Arenas, who was signed Tuesday for the rest of the season. The 30-year-old guard has not played since finishing last season with the Orlando Magic.
Arenas has averaged 21.2 points and 5.4 assists per game in his nine-year career, but has been slowed considerably by knee injuries. The Magic acquired Arenas from Washington last season, but used the NBA's amnesty cause to waive him in December.
"Before today I didn't know I was playing," he said. "Leaving Memphis I thought I was gonna be inactive until I got myself in shape, but they told me right before the game I was going to get thrown right into the fire."
Arenas gave himself an average grade, finishing with two points and two assists in 11 minutes
"I thought I did all right for coming off the couch," he said. "All I want to do is help the team out, play some defense and not embarrass myself out there."
J.J. Hickson was in uniform but did not play for the Blazers. The 6-foot-9 forward as waived by Sacramento on Tuesday and claimed by Portland on Wednesday.
It was the latest of a serious of moves by the Blazers. In addition to dismissing head coach McMillan, Portland traded starters Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace at the deadline. Often-injured former No. 1 draft Greg Oden was also let go.
Hickson played 35 games for the Kings, averaging 4.7 points and 5.1 rebounds in 18.4 minutes, but he had been limited in the last 10 games because of back spasms. The Blazers activated him shortly before the game.
The Blazers made all 25 of their free throw attempts. It was the most they'd made without a miss since they went 30-for-30 on Nov. 30, 1986 at Indiana.
"It felt good. It felt really good," said Crawford, who did his part by making all 10 of his foul shots. "It reminded me of the beginning (of the season) and the times we had really big wins against good teams. Hopefully we can see more of that but that's on us to go out and perform."
The Blazers led by seven points in the first quarter, but the Grizzlies closed in midway through the second and former Blazer Zach Randolph put Memphis in front 37-36 with 4:53 left in the half.
Batum answered with a 3 to put the Blazers back in front and Portland led 49-44 at the break.
Randolph, who played for the Blazers from 2001-07, appeared in his fourth game since missing 37 with a torn right MCL. He led the Grizzlies with 12 points at the break.
Gasol's dunk made it 57-all and he added a free throw to put Memphis in front before Conely made two straight jumpers to go up 62-57.
The Grizzlies led by seven points before Portland rallied to take a 73-71 lead on Crawford's turnaround jumper.
Portland stretched the advantage to 81-74 on Aldridge's tip-in before Memphis narrowed it on Tony Allen's tip and 3-pointer.
Allen's 3 pulled the Grizzlies to 83-82 with 4:39 left, but after Aldridge hit a pair of free throws, Matthews' 3 made it 88-82 for the Blazers.
"We made a couple of mistakes," Gasol said. "Had a couple of turnovers, missed a couple of shots, didn't execute the way we wanted to. And that was the game."
NOTES: Oden, who was released by the Blazers last week after five injury-marred seasons in Portland, thanked the team and their fans on Facebook: "As I move forward in a new direction, I am committed to pursuing my goals of getting back on the court and I will always hold a special place in my heart for the state and people of Oregon."