By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK — LaMarcus Aldridge scored 27 points, Wesley Matthews added 24 and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Brooklyn Nets 108-98 Monday night for their seventh straight victory.
Damian Lillard finished with 19 points and nine assists as the Trail Blazers withstood the Nets’ blistering start to win seven in a row in the same season for the first time since a 13-game run in December 2007.
Portland (9-2) is just a half-game behind San Antonio and Indiana for the NBA’s best record. The Blazers will try to complete a perfect 4-0 road trip Wednesday at Milwaukee.
Shaun Livingston scored 23 points for the Nets, who stormed out to their best first quarter of the season and then seemed to run out of gas against the younger Trail Blazers. Kevin Garnett made all six shots in the 40-point first period, then went 2 for 13 from there to finish with a season-high 16 points.
Garnett and Paul Pierce were back in the starting lineup after missing Saturday’s loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles with injuries, though Brook Lopez and Deron Williams continued to rest sprained left ankles.
Pierce, who had a sore left groin, played as if he was still hurting, managing just 11 points on 2-for-12 shooting.
Portland turned the game around in the third quarter, limiting the Nets to 3-of-18 shooting and outscoring them 27-12 to take an 83-78 lead. They then opened the fourth with a 12-4 spurt to open a 95-82 advantage when Mo Williams was credited with a basket on a goaltending call.
Matthews was 5 of 8 from 3-point range, improving to 30 for 57 for the season (52.6 percent). He kept the Blazers in the game in the first quarter, when the Nets made 14 of 19 shots for a 40-31 lead.
Garnett, who hadn’t been in double figures yet in the Brooklyn black and white, got there in this one by hitting five jumpers in less than 3 minutes at the start. He took a seat after starting 6 for 6 and then Livingston took over. He made all three of his shots in the period, including a driving, left-handed slam dunk over Robin Lopez that had teammates leaping up off the nearby Nets bench.
But they fell apart in the third, just as they have in all their losses. Brooklyn (3-7) has won the third quarter in all three victories and been outscored in the period in every loss.
BULLS 86, BOBCATS 81
CHICAGO — Luol Deng scored 21 points and the Bulls overcame a rough shooting night to record their fifth straight win.
Carlos Boozer had 12 points and 17 rebounds for Chicago, which is on its longest winning streak since taking eight in a row from Feb. 20-March 7, 2012. Jimmy Butler had 14 points and Derrick Rose finished with 12.
Deng’s 3-pointer with 27.1 seconds remaining gave the Bulls an 85-81 lead. Gerald Henderson then missed for the Bobcats, and Rose had a free throw to help Chicago wrap it up.
Rose, who hit a career-high six 3-pointers in the Bulls’ 110-94 win Saturday over Indiana, went 4 for 13 from the field. The Bulls shot 27 of 75 (36 percent) overall.
Jeffery Taylor led Charlotte with a career-high 20 points and Henderson had 16.
Bryant almost ready?
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Kobe Bryant has been medically cleared to resume basketball activities.
The Los Angeles Lakers tweeted out the news on Monday, when the team had a day off.
It’s another step in Bryant’s comeback after he tore his left Achilles tendon seven months ago.
Bryant returned to practice over the weekend, doing some drills with his teammates.
A team spokesman says there’s no timetable for Bryant to play in a game.