Hours after suffering a late fourth quarter/overtime collapse on national television, the Portland Trail Blazers (36-15) look to end their four-game Eastern road-trip with a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves (24-27) at the Target Center. The Blazers won the previous matchup last month and withstood 30+ points from Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic, but faced a much struggling Wolves team who has lost the last four of five games and were without both Martin and Pekovic this evening.
The game plan was dumped completely as Kevin Love was scratched from playing with a sore neck, leaving the Wolves to play guys like Dante Cunningham, Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger, Ronny Turiaf along with Ricky Rubio. With the green light to shoot and play loose and free, the Wolves wouldn’t whimper in the corner. The Blazers bench led by CJ McCollum shined as the starters took awhile to get going. The Wolves were biting the Blazers’ heels up until the fourth quarter when Portland stopped goofing around and took control as they survived and beat Minnesota 117-110.
With Love, Martin and Pekovic in street clothes, Portland would be lost as to whom to watch out for, while looking lethargic on defense, opting to simply sit back and watch Rubio flop and dance under the rim. Rubio also has a helping hand in getting Damian Lillard into early foul trouble and force Earl Watson to be the first off the bench while Mo Williams is still gone. Watson too picks up four fouls in the first half and Terry Stotts has to mix and match lineups. The Blazers go up as many as 10 with Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum carrying the load early. CJ McCollum would gain more minutes and didn’t look like a rookie, let alone even one who just started his career a few weeks ago. Portland continues to have difficulty with offensive rebounds and the Wolves feel energized, wild and free. The Blazers hold a 55-54 halftime lead.
Free throws from Brewer gives Minnesota their first lead and another Blazer meltdown is rearing its ugly head once more. Nothing finds the bottom of the net – and to put icing on the cake – Portland’s favorite referee Scott Foster makes another terrible goaltending call on a chase down block from Batum. A rare three-pointer from Rubio extended the Wolves lead to seven, Lillard scores his first bucket with 40 seconds left and lobs to Joel Freeland to cap a 6-0 run and tie again at 83 with one more period to go.
The struggle continued for both teams as Portland goes 1-7 from the field and Minnesota wasn’t fairing good either. Frustration boils as the scoring goes quiet, once the starters came back in – WHAM – Blazers lead by nine. LaMarcus Aldridge puts on a show scoring eight straight points while the Wolves lose footing and can’t finish. They do however cut the lead one more time to six but transition plays by Matthews with a step-back three puts our minds at ease.
Who was Hot
- CJ McCollum earned plenty of minutes for his fabulous display tonight, he was silky smooth, calm-headed and made some remarkable passes as he slid to the point-guard position with foul troubles to Lillard and Watson. He earns a new career-high 19 points, three assists, three rebounds, two steals on 6-12 shooting and 3-6 from downtown.
- LaMarcus Aldridge had a quiet 26-point outing to go along with nine rebounds, three assists, two steals, two blocks on 12-16 shooting.
- Wesley Matthews always plays great at the Target Center and tonight was the same: 21 points, six assists and 3-5 from three.
- Nicolas Batum had a well-rounded game until he had some dumb turnovers in the closing seconds to give the Wolves a glimmer of hope of a comeback. We’re talking he literally passed the ball to a white jersey on an inbound play and played sloppy with four total turnovers. He has 15 points, five rebounds, and four assists.
- Assists: Blazers 28 – Wolves 17
- Blocks: 7 – Wolves 5 (Robin Lopez had four alone)
- Fast break points: Blazers 22 – Wolves 14
- Blazers bench outscores the Wolves’ bench 34-18: Joel Freeland with 11 points, five rebounds and Earl Watson made a three-pointer!
- Casey Holdahl was shown live-blogging from the media row for a total of 25 seconds and Twitter went nuts so far I thought he would end up trending. Amazing to see how Portland fans even show love for the team bloggers.
Who Was Not
- Damian Lillard could not find any rhythm on account of picking up five fouls along with a poor 3-10 from the field for 14 points (although 7-7 from the free throw line). He adds five rebounds, four assists and three turnovers to his stat line.
- The Blazers allow another point guard to have a record-night and it was Ricky Rubio’s turn: 25 points, nine assists on 8-19 shooting and two three-pointers for the bearded Spaniard.
- Even without Love and Pekovic, the Blazers still lose the rebounding battle 50-46 and give up 52 points in the paint to the Wolves compared to 28
Going 2-2 on this road-trip is not ideal, but heck we’ll take it. The Blazers will not be going east of the Rockies till early March where the schedule then gets ridiculously brutal. Normally the Blazers would fly home tonight but because of the snow/ice storm that has hit seemingly everywhere, the team will rest tonight in Minnesota before heading home tomorrow. Portland’s next game is on Tuesday night at the Moda Center, where they will look to take the season series on the Oklahoma City Thunder.