Wolves Burned by Blazers, Winning Streak Ended at Three

The Wolves landed in Portland just before midnight, Sunday, after departing from Utah shortly after their victory against the Jazz. After the Pups demolished the Denver Nuggets (Blazers burn, demolish Denver — these are horrible, but i grin none-the-less), we determined victories against other Western Conference foes competing for playoff contention are the wins that will prove to have the most value during the course of the remainder of the season. Minnesota had a chance to catch the Portland Trail Blazers, without LaMarcus Aldridge, reeling to sustain the success captured earlier in the season, and steal a victory at the Moda Center. Here’s this picture again.

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Of the first three games, two were deemed as ‘winnable’. Fortunately, the Wolves defeated the Indiana Pacers at home — this was not considered one of those winnable contests. However, because the Blazers were without their All-Star power forward I did consider last night’s matchup in Portland as one that could – and maybe should – have been a victory. Nikola Pekovic, who participated in some pregame warmups, remains out until further notice — although he is expected to play sometime on this roadtrip (per Kevin Love’s Instagram account) — he did not play last night against the Blazers. The Wolves rolled out the small-ball starting lineup, again, with Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer, Dante Cunningham and Kevin Love. The Blazers countered with Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Dorell Wright, and Robin Lopez.

First Half

Only a minute and some change into the game, Love gave the Wolves a lead after hitting a jumper and things were moving along smoothly on the offensive end. Love scored 13 in the first, Budinger added 3 (1-3 from the field, 1-1 3pt), Cunningham and Brewer — together — accounted for 10 on 5 of 8 FG, while Rubio added 5 and the Wolves led after the opening quarter — 34-26. In addition to his scoring contributions, Rubio assisted on 7 of the Wolves 14 baskets. J.J. Barea started the following quarter with a three and the Wolves continued rolling through most of the second frame. Rick Adelman elected to keep Alexey Shved on the bench, which isn’t a decision I’m prepared to dispute, but this meant playing Robbie Hummel alongside Shabazz Muhammad, Luc Mbah a Moute and Gorgui Dieng.

Without having Kevin Martin, who remains sidelined due to injury, Barea has free reign of the second unit — this is not a good thing, in my opinion. Because Budinger was moved to the starting shooting guard slot, Hummel is the wing player Adelman has decided is best fit to stretch the defense when the second unit is on the floor. Hummel is shooting 29 percent from beyond the arc this season, and is only averaging three points a game. Would playing Shved make more sense? I’ll leave that up to you.

‘Bazz,’ who has shown he has the ability to hit the outside shot — in the D-League and with the Wolves — and make plays posting-up smaller defenders, didn’t play very well during the seven minutes of action he saw in the second quarter. Muhammad was one-of-five from the field, and only scored two points.

A little over the 5:00 minute mark, Barea knocked down two free-throws and the Wolves were in business — on the road and ahead by 18 points. Although the starters had checked back in, the game began turning into a gothic horror story as things were winding down in the first half. Thomas Robinson, who replaced the struggling Wright, came off the Blazers’ bench and showed anyone watching what it means to be a hustler. In the final two minutes of the first half, Robinson scored four points and snatched four rebounds, he relentlessly earned the right to play the majority of minutes at forward, in Aldridge’s absence, throughout the remainder of the game. Portland ended the half on an 8-0 run, but the Wolves led at halftime — 60-52 — by a mere 8 points, despite, at one point, having created a significant deficit.

Second Half

After grabbing an offensive rebound, Rubio found an open Budinger and the Wolves opened up the scoring after halftime after Bud’s three-pointer fell through the net. After that, the Blazers went on an 11-2 run and the score remained close during the third quarter. However, Portland’s effort on the boards and in the paint was the difference throughout the remainder of the game. The Blazers attained 12 points in the paint, while the Wolves — lacking any presence at the center position — managed to score only four. Portland had out-rebounded Minnesota in the frame, 15-7.

Lillard and Batum, who together accounted for 27 of the Blazers 52 first-half points, began heating up after halftime and scored 10 apiece, shooting a combined 8 of 10 from the field and 4 of 5 from ‘downtown’. Batum managed to grab four rebounds and also had two assists, while Lillard showed his ability to pass also — ‘the Dame Monster’ had three assists of his own.

This following sequence essentially encapsulates the way things went after the Wolves found themselves up by 18 points during the second quarter. The Blazers simply worked, hustled, and made everything harder for the visiting team.

With just over two minutes to play until the final quarter, after six lead changes and having been tied four separate times thus far, Batum drained a three-pointer (assisted by the still-hustling Robinson) that gave the Blazers an edge, 82-80. Shortly after a Barea miss and – yet another – Robinson rebound, the ball found a streaking Batum and the frenchmen scored the final points of the third and Portland took a four-point lead into the fourth quarter.

Yea….

Fourth Quarter Factoids

  • Rubio and Cunningham sat on the bench.
  • Love was the only starter to score, he had three points.
  • Shabazz played all 12 minutes, didn’t score once, and was 0 for 3 from the field.
  • Budinger played 18 seconds. Yes, that is correct — 18 seconds.
  • Barea, although being a major reason the game was a contest for as long as it was, committed five fouls (FIVE) and made some of the usual boneheaded plays we’re used to seeing him make when things go awry. (He scored six points on 2 of 6 FG shooting)

No, the Wolves didn’t overcome the small, four-point deficit that they faced entering the quarter — nor was there a moment where it looked as if they were going to do so. It was worse than watching paint dry, and it took every ounce of fanship inside of me to refrain from turning the game off and flicking on the True Blood (which I didn’t watch live because of the game, and my commitment to covering this team).

The final score: Blazers 108, Wolves 97.

Three Stars

  • Damian Lillard — 32 points, 11 of 17 FG, 5 of 8 3PT FG, 5 of 5 from the charity stripe. The guy, he’s good.
  • Kevin Love — The game was ugly, but not ugly enough for me to spite the Wolves by leaving them out of the ‘Three Stars’ portion of this recap. Love scored 31, albeit on only 11 of 21 shooting (with a less than stellar shot selection) and grabbed 10 rebounds
  • Thomas Robinson — 14 points in 32 minutes. 18 rebounds (11 defensive and 7 offensive) and a +/- rating of +19. Look at this way, Brewer’s +/- was -19. Because math is hard, I did it for you — that’s a difference of 38.

For the optimistic, Pekovic is expected to return at some point during this road trip — my guess is Martin will, too. Tomorrow night the Wolves play the Phoenix Suns, who were defeated last night by the Houston Rockets; this keeps hope for the 8th and final playoff slot in the superior Western Conference alive. If Pek and K-Mart (K-Target to some) don’t make their return tomorrow, in Phoenix, they’ll have three additional days to recover before the Wolves play the Kings – in Sacramento – on Saturday. Here’s a tweet from John letting you know how things stand.

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