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Portland blazes back into playoff series

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Shaquille O'Neal was headed for a breakaway, bone-shuddering slam-dunk.

But just as his 7-foot-1, 300-pound frame was about to leave the ground, he was shoved hard from behind by Portland's Chris Dudley. O'Neal went crashing into the courtside seats.Dudley was called for a flagrant foul. The Rose Garden crowd loved it. On this Wednesday night, the Trail Blazers weren't going to be pushed around.

The first-quarter flareup ignited a 10-1 Portland run and sent the Blazers to a 98-90 victory that kept them alive in their first-round series.

"It definitely was a hard foul, but he wasn't going to score the basket," Dudley said. "If nothing else, we were going to go out physically. Yeah, I think we had to set the tone."

Portland closed to 2-1 in the best-of-5 series and can even it by beating the Lakers again Friday night. Los Angeles is 0-3 this season in Portland.

Even though the Blazers' 31-point third-quarter lead dwindled to six in the final minute, coach P.J. Carlesimo was satisfied.

"That to me was a great win," he said. "A lot of people want to kick dirt on us. We just don't take to that very well."

The Blazers led by 18 in the first quarter, 26 in the second and were up 69-38 after Isaiah Rider sank a 3-pointer with 7:58 left in the third.

But the Lakers outscored Portland 24-6 to start the fourth quarter, closing to 90-82 on Kobe Bryant's two free throws with 3:15 to play. Rasheed Wallace and Anderson each made a pair of free throws to keep the Lakers down although they ultimately got as close as six.

"Any good team will come back. It's hard to hold those big leads sometimes," Portland's Clifford Robinson said. "But to our credit in the last few minutes, we did a good job of moving the ball and knocking down free throws."

The Blazers were just 1-for-14 from the field, but 12-for-14 from the free-throw line, in the final quarter.

Anderson, who had Portland's only field goal of the fourth, made his first eight field goal tries, scored 17 in the first quarter and had a career playoff high of 30 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Wallace added 20 points and Robinson 18.

"I was just more offensive minded," Anderson said. "The last two games I was not taking what they gave me."

O'Neal had 29 points and 12 rebounds, but got little help from his teammates until the final period. O'Neal outscored Portland center Arvydas Sabonis 29-0, but the rest of the Blazers' starters outscored the rest of the Lakers' starting five 80-15. Los Angeles also had 20 turnovers to Portland's 11.

Bryant scored 14 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter. He twice cut Portland's lead to six in the final 33 seconds, but Robinson and Anderson each made a pair of free throws to finally get the Blazers the win.

"If we could have come out with that kind of effort in the first half, we could have finished it," O'Neal said. "But we came out soft. They came out with a lot more energy than we did. The key Friday is for us to come out with a lot of energy. We will be ready. I guarantee it."

Sabonis played just two minutes in the first half because he picked up three fouls, but all that did was speed up the Blazers' offense.

Portland's strategy of allowing O'Neal to get his points while denying everyone else couldn't have worked much better through three quarters. O'Neal had 18 points at the half. But the rest of the Lakers were a combined 6-for-23 from the field.

"When you look at halftime, their starting forwards had outscored ours 18-1 and their starting guards had outscored ours 25-4," Lakers' coach Del Harris said, "so you've got to know that's a bad news situation."

Harris appreciated the fourth-quarter comeback. But he preferred to dwell on the Lakers' horrors of the first three periods.

"We've got to look at this game as a butt-kicking. We've got to look at it as a 30-point loss," Harris said. "We can't say, `Everything's fine. We almost had it.' It's not."

Down the stretch, there were a few shoving matches and a lot of nose-to-nose verbal jousting. The heat was on, and two young, emotional teams were feeling it.

As Anderson put it, "We've got a series now."