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In the closing seconds of a tie game against Northwest Division rival Oklahoma City, Nicolas Batum was poised to be a hero.

He collected a pass on the wing and drove through the meat of the Thunder defense toward the rim, with a clear path at the basket in front of him and a Trail Blazers victory in his sights. Batum elevated for the game-winner, but instead of trying to dunk, he opted for a layup as a sellout Rose Garden crowd held its collective breath.

You know how the story ends. Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook was trailing Batum and, at the last second, reached out and swatted the ball from behind as the fourth-quarter buzzer sounded. The game moved into overtime and the Blazers went on to lose, 111-107.

"I still think about that play," Batum said late last week.

It was a painful defeat in a season full of them for the Blazers and perhaps no one took it harder than Batum, who was solemn and dejected afterward in the locker room. But that play -- along with another highlight moment eight days later -- also may have served as defining events in a career that could be permanently changed for the better.

"This play, maybe something happened in my head," Batum said, pointing at his temple. "Now I know. I understand. I've got to go hard every time. I've got to be aggressive."
http://www.oregonlive.com/blazers/index.ssf/2012/02/batum_becomes_a_game-changer.html
 
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