Minnesota Timberwolves 98, Portland Trail Blazers 100

Photo Credit: Hannah Foslien

Photo Credit: Hannah Foslien

Game Summary

Too little, too late. Hosting the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves nearly overcame a 19-point fourth quarter deficit but ultimately fell by a score of 100-98 to their division rivals. After enduring a 3-12 month of January, the Pups are now 1-2 in the month of February despite having played all 3 games at the Target Center. To add to the misery, Andrei Kirilenko suffered a strained quadriceps in the second quarter on Monday night, and he is expected to miss at least a few games before returning.

The Pups got off to a very slow start and fell behind early, trailing 59-38 at the half. LaMarcus Aldridge really stood out in this game, and made mincemeat out of Minnesota’s interior defense. Matched up against Derrick Williams and Dante Cunningham throughout much of the contest, Aldridge was able to use his length to drain baskets all night on the pair of undersized power forwards. I can imagine it must have been a lot of fun for LaMarcus.

Heading into the fourth quarter, the Timberwolves trailed 77-58. Despite facing a 19-point fourth-quarter deficit, the Pups, led by Ricky Rubio, staged an impressive run but ultimately fell by a single basket. The Trail Blazers got lazy in the second half and fell into a turnover frenzy that the Pups were able to take advantage of. Fortunately for Portland, they had a closer in Aldridge and he came up big on the offensive and defensive ends on the last few possessions of the game.

As if the loss was not enough, yet again one of Minnesota’s floor leaders has fallen to injury. Andrei Kirilenko suffered a strain to his right quadriceps and will likely be out for as much as a week or more. The Timberwolves just can’t catch a break. The Wolves did see some chemistry forming between Ricky Rubio and Dante Cunningham, as Ricky tossed out 14 assists and Dante netted 23 points in 29 minutes.

Nikola was able to play 35 big minutes, and notched a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds. Pek was guarded by former Cav and King JJ Hickson, who has enjoyed a breakout season after being dumped by the lowly Sacramento Kings not too long ago. Now averaging 12.9 ppg and 10.7 rpg, Hickson is set to be a free agent after this season and could land a sizable contract this summer. Hickson ultimately got the better of the matchup, and finished with 8 points and 9 rebounds in 36 minutes played.

Once again, Chris Johnson received a DNP-CD and does not appear to be in Adelman’s rotation, despite his stellar play in all of his opportunities. Meanwhile, Mickael Gelabale logged 19 minutes and finished with 5 points.

JJ Barea had a very nice night for Minnesota and continues to be Mr. inconsistency as of late. In 27 minutes, Barea scored 17 points while turning the ball over once, meshing well with Rubio and running the floor very well. Minnesota’s comeback can largely be attributed to their decision to go with a smaller lineup in the fourth, and it was encouraging to see our favorite Spanish backcourt feeding off each other.

Keys of the Game

  • Shot-Blocking: POR 8, MN 2 – Highlighted by LaMarcus Aldridge’s block of Rubio on Minnesota’s second to last possession, Portland had a clear advantage due to their length and athleticism, especially following Andrei Kirilenko’s departure due to injury in the first half. 
  • Rebounding: POR 39, MN 29 – The loss of AK-47 greatly impacted Minnesota’s physicality in the paint, and Portland bigs Aldridge and JJ Hickson established themselves on the defensive glass, holding the Timberwolves to a relatively few 10 offensive rebounds.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. LaMarcus Aldridge – Playing against the Kevin Love-less Timberwolves must be a breath of fresh air for Portland’s All-Star power forward, and he took full advantage of his mismatch on the low block. Portland’s former number-2 overall pick scored 25 points (12-17 FG) and pulled down 13 rebounds, and his late jumper and block of Rubio with 7.9 seconds remaining helped Portland to close out what would have been a huge come-from-behind win for Minnesota. The 6-foot-11 Aldridge tallied 5 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal and 2 turnovers in 39 minutes of playing time.
  2. Wesley Matthews – Matthews embodies everything that the Wolves are currently missing from the shooting guard position: three-point shooting, size, strength and athleticism. Portland did a good job of attacking Minnesota’s weaknesses and using off-ball screens to free up space for Matthews, who alone converted 4 of the Blazers 7 three-point field goals. The former Madison (WI) Memorial HS star tallied 5 assists, but also committed 5 of the teams 28 turnovers. Nonetheless, he shot 7-11 from the field on his way to 22 points in 39 minutes for the Blazers.
  3. Ricky Rubio – If there is one thing for Timberwolves fans to take from this game, it was the superb play of Rubio, especially in the second half. Rubio recorded 10 of his career-high-tying 14 assists in the fourth quarter and fueled a vicious comeback in which the Timberwolves outscored the Blazers 40-23 in the final period of play. Although the comeback ultimately proved futile, Tricky Ricky deserves a lot of praise for his late-game heroics despite playing with a shorthanded roster. The Spaniard  recorded double digit scoring for just the second time this season, and scored 15 points on 4-9 shooting in 33 minutes of playing time.

Minnesota Timberwolves 97 – Portland Trail Blazers 102

Photo Credit: Jim Mone / The Associated Press

Photo Credit: Jim Mone / The Associated Press

Injuries, injuries, injuries. Taking on the division rival Portland Trail Blazers at the Target Center on Saturday night, the Timberwolves were left without team centerpieces Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love in a season that has once again been defined by roster-depleting injuries. Portland has not experienced such misfortune so far this season and has continued to surge under the leadership of rookie Damian Lillard and young veterans Nicolas Batum and Lamarcus Aldridge. Trailing 79-61 heading into the fourth quarter, the Timberwolves nearly stole the game from the Blazers behind some stellar fourth-quarter shooting from Derrick Williams, who fueled a 26-8 fourth-quarter run that ultimately culminated in a 102-97 defeat.

Game Summary

Nikola Pekovic was virtually unstoppable and recorded 21 points (9-14 FG) and 15 rebounds before leaving the game in the third quarter due to a left hip strain. With injuries keeping both Love and Rubio out of the game, the loss of Pek makes Minnesota extremely vulnerable in nearly all areas of their roster. A potential free agent target for Portland heading into next summer, Pek displayed utter dominance on the low block and continues to make his case for a max contract offer next offseason.

The devastating news surrounding Love’s condition came out before the start of the game, and an MRI has revealed that he re-fractured the third metacarpal in his right hand and a timetable for his return has not yet been set. K-Love had previously fractured the third and fourth metacarpals in the same hand October 17, and is set to see hand specialist Dr. Andy Weiland this week. It is blatantly obvious that Love returned far too early following his initial fractures and it was also extremely evident in his decreases in FG%, 3p%, etc. Love will now have to focus on ensuring that his hand is 100% before attempting another return back to the court, and it could be another month before we see our star back on the court.

What an interesting season this has been for Derrick Williams, as he will likely get a second chance at returning to the starting lineup amid Love’s latest injury. The set of circumstances are especially intriguing when considering the vast improvement that D-Will has displayed since his mediocre start to the season which essentially sent him into Rick Adelman’s doghouse of which Williams had a difficult time getting out of. However, with Pek leaving the game due to injury and Love already out, Williams had a spectacular second half performance in which he scored 18 points in 18 minutes, shooting 6-10 from the field and 2-3 from three-point range. One aspect of Derrick’s game that has been greatly overlooked this season has been his defense, and he has rapidly turned into one of the top defenders on the Pups roster, recording 6 rebounds and 2 steals as well last night. Williams currently holds a PER of 15.64, much-improved from the 12.98 PER he held last season, and is now shooting above league-average from three at 38%. The biggest question will be how he can handle more minutes and increased responsibility, and he his ability to maintain confidence will be a major factor in how he is able to fare until Love rejoins the lineup.

Playing without their 3 core players, the Wolves will now return to a lineup that is very similar to that of the beginning of the season. Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved will have to be major contributors in the offense and the success of the team will heavily rely on defense and passing, as there is no clear first option scorer that is healthy. Shved had an off-night shooting last night, finishing just 1 for 11 from the field despite tallying 7 assists and 3 rebounds in 30 minutes. Although Shved is technically labeled as a rookie, he is in a much different situation than other rookies in the NBA in that he has been playing professionally since his teenage years. The biggest thing that Shved needs to change is his shot selection in the pick-and-roll. He needs to take harder angles when running off picks, because he tends to make his movements more laterally than vertically which allows his defenders to stick with him easier while keeping Shved farther away from the hoop. I believe that Shved is a very good shooter and has yet to gain a rhythm thus far in the NBA, but he must allow himself higher percentage looks instead of settling for contested jump shots when running off screens.

AK-47 and Dante Cunningham each had efficient games and both were +4 on the court in 42 minutes played. Both players have been highly consistent this season and were tremendous pickups in the offseason, being near perfect fits for the Adelman offense. Kirilenko finished with an oh-so-characteristic line of 15 points (7-13 FG), 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 2 turnovers. Cunningham added 10 points (5-13 FG), 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks.

JJ Barea got another technical foul and made another critical late-game turnover that solidified Portland’s win, but had a pretty nice game despite his crucial mistakes. In 26 minutes off the bench, Barea finished with 14 points (5-13 FG), 7 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 turnovers.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Damian Lillard: This was a tough pick, because it was pretty much a toss-up between Lillard-Batum-Matthews for who had the best performance. Lillard was a game-high +16 on the floor, whereas Batum (+1) and Matthews (+7) fell a bit short. The thing that amazes me the most about Lillard is his seeming lack of nerves on the court; he simply looks like a kid playing the game he loves without any worries in the world. The Blazers rising star absolutely terrorized Minnesota’s guards and used his size and explosiveness to dissect the Pups halfcourt defense. A favorite for Rookie of the Year, Lillard has given Blazers fans a reason to be highly optimistic for the next decade, and new GM Neil Olshey truly hit a home run in last summers draft. 
  2. Nicolas Batum: It is performances like these that made Wolves GM David Kahn dish out the $46 million offer sheet last summer that put Portland in a serious pickle. While he had previously been marked by injuries and inconsistency, Batum has enjoyed a career year and was nearly perfect last night against our Pups. In 38 minutes, Batum scored 26 points on 9 of 11 shooting, including 5 of 6 from three. He also recorded 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks and only 1 turnover in what was arguably his best offensive game of the season.
  3. Wesley Matthews: Matthews played remarkably similar to Batum last night, knocking down 5 of his 7 three-point attempts and scoring 26 points in 36 minutes on the floor. As a team, Portland shot 16-24 from beyond the arc and put on a shooting clinic on the road against a division rival.

Minnesota Timberwolves 95 – Portland Trail Blazers 103

Steve Dykes – US Presswire

Entering tonight’s game, the Minnesota Timberwolves were on a three game losing skid and traveled to the Pacific Northwest to take on the closest thing they currently have to a rivalry in the Portland Trailblazers.  The Blazers came into the game in last place in the Northwest division at 5-6 on the season.  The loser of tonight’s game was destined for the cellar of the division, so clearly the pressure was on 11 games into the season.  (That was my best impersonation of working for ESPN, hope you liked it.)

Similar to Wednesday night, the Pups starting lineup consisted of Ridnour, Lee, Kirilenko, Love, and Pekovic.  No surprises on the Blazers starting five, as they opened the game with Lillard, Matthews, Batum, Aldridge, and Hickson.  Despite missing Brandon Roy and his return to Portland, a number of Pups have ties to Portland and could be viewed as “returning home”; with David Kahn and Kevin Love from the area and Rick Adelman’s past coaching successes with the franchise.  You can also throw in Luke Ridnour’s time at the University of Oregon.

The game itself got off to a very hot start.  The teams went into the first timeout about six minutes into the game with the Wolves holding an 18-13 lead.  Pekovic was dominant for the Wolves with a quick eight points.  Luke Ridnour also looked on target, hitting his first two jumpers for a quick five points.  Unfortunately, Luke was getting lit up on the other side of the floor, as Damian Lillard opened up with a quick seven points as well.

The 1st quarter ended with the Wolves up 33-28.  Aside from Pek and Ridnour, Love also had a strong quarter with six points and five rebounds.  The Blazers were completely overmatched in the paint for much of the quarter.  The “almost Pup” Nicholas Batum had a very nice quarter as well, doing a little bit of everything to help keep the Blazers in the game.

About six minutes into the 2nd quarter, Minnesota was able to double their lead to ten, largely using their reserve unit.  That reserve unit once again did not consist of Derrick Williams.  It is also worth noting that the Blazers bench provided virtually nothing in production.  I would expect the Blazers to really struggle late in the season, as they are going to have to rely on their starters for heavy minutes night in and night out.

At the end of the 2nd quarter, the Wolves maintained their five point lead, 55-50.  Portland’s starting backcourt was the only reason this game was close, as Lillard and Matthews combined for 31 points and 6 assists at halftime.  The Wolves continued to dominate down low, with Pekovic and Love providing the inside muscle to lead the way for the team.

Here are a few halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • Derrick Williams and Greg Stiemsma combined for 0 seconds on the floor in the first half.  The former shouldn’t be on the roster by the end of this road trip.  The latter has been struggling mightily over the past few games and is now behind Lou Amundson in the rotation, at least for the time being.
  • I love how the Twolves digital team is using various forms of social media and engaging fans not at the stadium.

The 3rd quarter got off to a bit of a chippy start.  Within the first few minutes of the quarter, Love and Aldridge picked up double technical fouls as the Blazers immediately cut into the Pups lead.  However, with the assistance of the T, Aldridge picked up his 5th personal foul before we were halfway through the quarter.

Both teams entered the penalty in the 3rd with more than four minutes left in the quarter.  In other words, the game lost the flow that was seen in the 1st half and play was consistently blown dead without too many trips up and down the court.

At the end of the 3rd, the Blazers held an 81-78 lead, thanks to a Nic Batum three pointer as the clock wound down to end the quarter.  Portland outscored the Wolves 31-23 in the 3rd, led again by Damian Lillard, who had 24 points and 7 assists through three.  In one word – wow!  The Wolves didn’t look good in the last few minutes of the quarter at all and that was only the beginning.

The 4th quarter felt like a runaway train as a Pups fan.  The Blazers opened up the quarter on a 14-6 run to increase the lead to 11 points, going into a Wolves timeout to try to stop the bleeding.  The Wolves could have called three TO’s in a row and it wouldn’t have mattered, as Wes Matthews caught fire in the quarter and finished the game with 30 points, as the Wolves fell 103-95 to the Blazers.

The Pups continued to miss FT’s (28-37 on the night) but this didn’t feel like the Charlotte and/or Denver loss.  They were outplayed in the 2nd half and the guard play from Portland completely dominated the Wolves.  The Ridnour/Barea backcourt used in the 2nd half of the game was atrocious.  It looked like the ‘11/’12 version of Barea and that isn’t a compliment whatsoever.  Finally, I’m not sure if it is the return of Love or a bit of fatigue, but Andrei Kirilenko has lost a bit of his mojo.  The ball needs to go through his hands more often on the offensive side of the court.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Damian Lillard
  2. Wesley Matthews
  3. Kevin Love

Paging Dr. Rubio, we need you!  Live from rumor-ville: in pregame, it was mentioned that Rubio could be cleared to practice with the team when they return to the Twin Cities.  We’re teetering on some sort of edge here right now.  Prior to the season, my goal for this team was to tread water until Love and Rubio returned.  It may be the hot start that increased expectations, but things need to get fixed quickly.