"This is how many more starters I need!"
After nursing a slim lead through the first half, the Portland Trail Blazers pulled away from the Minnesota Timberwolves for a conflicting 13-point victory. Minnesota, who looks nothing like a playoff contender after losing Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic to injuries, fell behind the Blazers in the standings. This was probably a great game for the live crowd, but only the second half was lively on TV.
The Blazers were led by LaMarcus Aldridge (26 points, 8 rebounds), with support from the usual suspects: Nicolas Batum (24 points), Wesley Matthews (18 points), and Raymond "It's contract time!" Felton (10 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds). But everyone's talking about the young guys, JJ Hickson, Luke Babbitt, and Jonny Flynn. They had a slow first half, but shone afterward. Hickson, starting in place of the injured Joel Przybilla, finished with 15 points and 9 rebounds in 35 minutes. Flynn added 7 assists off the bench. Luke hit a couple three's from deep downtown, for 8 points in 17 solid minutes.
The first half was inconsequential. The Blazers started out hot, building a 9 point lead at the start of the game. Then they went cold, and Minnesota took over. A combination of rebounding, free throws and three pointers pushed them into the lead. However, the Blazers pulled it together to tie the game after one. In the second quarter, neither team could distinguish themselves early, but Steve "Snapper" Jones, being honored by the Blazers , joined the commentary booth to entertain us. Within a minute, he called out Mike Rice for being a homer, instantly becoming more interesting than the game. The Blazers kept a small lead through the quarter, keeping enough pressure on the Wolves bench players to prevent a run. Meanwhile, the Snapper explained to the fans that Batum isn't worth $10 million per season. In response, Batum's good stretch helped give the Blazers a 7 point lead. Despite a few Love/Aldridge scraps, the lead stayed 7 at the half.
The second half began with the arrival of Derrick Williams, who took the invisible Blazer D to school early. But when Aldridge nailed a jumper, the Blazers lead reached 11. The Wolves tried to make a run, but a few nice plays from Batum, including a block that led to an Aldridge fast-break dunk, led to Blazer 13 point lead and a Minnesota timeout. The Wolves cut the lead to 6 late, but inexplicably gave up with 2 seconds left, leaving Flynn to bounce a three-quarters-court pass over to Babbitt, for an easy two, and an 8 point lead at the buzzer.
The Wolves try to make another run, but another Babbitt three-pointer and a nice layup by Hickson led to a 12 point lead again. Minnesota brought back their starters for one more push, only to see Crawford push the lead at 16 with 6 minutes left. The Wolves kept trying to make a run, but Hickson helped hold them off.
Check out the box score, and stay tuned for Ben's media row report later. The next game is tomorrow night, at home against the Jazz. -- Tim