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Media Row Report: Blazers 107, Timberwolves 102

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The Portland Trail Blazers predictably defeated the pathetic Minnesota Timberwolves but did so in entertaining fashion thanks to a back-from-the-grave performance from Rudy Fernandez and a wow-I-just-realized-Kosta-Koufos-is-guarding-me night from LaMarcus Aldridge that together pushed the Blazers to a 107-102 win in the Rose Garden Friday night. 

Bad teams don't play good defense. Terrible teams don't care that they don't play good defense. The Timberwolves fell into the latter category tonight, getting beaten time and again on the same exact situations. They gave up dunks galore to Aldridge, who finished with 36 points to match his career-high. They also apparently decided to not guard Rudy Fernandez when he was in transition, when he was spotting up or when he was moving successfully towards the basket with steam for the first time since Franco left power. "We don't get critical stops when we need them, we also don't get stops throughout the ballgame, guys make dumb mistakes, particularly our weakside defense," Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis explained. Indeed.

If there was a can't miss element to tonight's action, which took place without Portland's injured guard Brandon Roy, it was the overall looseness, both from the players and from coach Nate McMillan.

Fernandez was obviously feeling himself from the moment he stepped on the court, and he strung together enough highlights for a decent mixtape before he finished with a career-high 26 points, to go along with 3 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals. The capper was a touch pass alleyoop to Aldridge sent towards the basket from near the three-point line, as inspired and creative a play as any I can remember from recent Blazers history. "Rudy came off the bench, he was the other target that we labeled in our pre-game meeting. He was a guy we wanted to control," Rambis lamented. Fail.

Aldridge was happy to chime in on the highlights, putting Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley on a poster during a vicious alleyoop, finishing another lob in reverse in transition and basically treating Minnesota's defense like a middle school AAU team, which it is. Really, I could go on and on thinking of complicated analogies and metaphors for how bad the Timberwolves were at dealing with Aldridge, but when a team's starting center twists his ankle during the jump ball and doesn't return to the game, you just write that fact, put a comma like this to pause for emphasis so it sinks in, put another comma because it's required by language rules, and then move on the next paragraph.

Back to the looseness. It wasn't just Fernandez, who came into the game prepared for a big night (according to McMillan, see below), second-year guard Patty Mills was bouncy, bouncy all game long and was rewarded for his efforts with huge burn down the stretch. It was shocking that McMillan entrusted Mills throughout the fourth quarter, even when the game tightened, but the loose leash proved a good idea. Although both McMillan and starting point guard Andre Miller stepped in to shout instructions at Mills from near halfcourt during one late offensive possession, Mills was solid enough on his own, finishing with 8 points, 4 assists and 3 turnovers (a few which were brutal but they came early, not late). He was more than competitive with Minnesota's weak point guard production and he pleased his coach with his work on the glass. "Little Patty was trying to box out Kevin Love. You almost want to smile. He was scrapping. We needed that. He played a good game tonight," McMillan said. 

Mills's presence on offense didn't stick out in the final quarter because his teammates Blazers attacked Minnesota's weaknesses so mercilessly. Mainly it was Aldridge being merciless, as he played smooth and confident and free, and very opportunistically too. McMillan smiled as he discussed Fernandez and Aldridge playing a nice two-man game that resulted in easy points over and over. "Rudy came off screens hard, turning the corner, getting to the basket and freezing the defender. Normally that is a jumpshot [on a pick-and-pop] but L.A. knows that Rudy will throw that lob and they connected on that a few times. That play, we kind of milked down the stretch."

If there was a damper on the night, it was that Aldridge perhaps got a little too carried away with the looseness. Stepping to the free throw line with 1:15 left in the game and the Blazers leading just 103-99, Aldridge said that a fan told him that he needed to make just one free throw for a new career-high. "Some fan yelled it to me. When they yelled it to me, I got tight, I missed both of them. Next time don't tell me, please. I did know [about the new career-high] but some fan yelled it to me and then I missed both of them. I got really, really tight."

Asked by a report to clarify that he didn't miss the shots because it was a close game, Aldridge repeated that his nervousness was on account of the opportunity to set a new career high. "No, it wasn't [because the game was close]. That was my new career-high and I got really, really tight and missed both of them."

Oh dear.

Call it a minor stain on an otherwise superb night, and Aldridge's careless overconfidence is relatively well-founded, given the recent history between the two teams. 

Informed that the Blazers have now defeated the Timberwolves in 13 consecutive games, Rambis stared straight at the inquiring reporter and said bluntly, "I don't worry about crap like that."

Maybe you should, coach. Maybe you should.

Random Game Notes

  • The Blazers announced tonight's game as a sellout -- its 126th in a row, including playoffs, according to the media notes -- as they always do. Yes, I'm aware there are all sorts of technicalities and ways to fudge the numbers, but tonight the difference between real sellout and bodies in the seats was as big as its been in a long time. Here are a few shots -- one ... two ... three -- of giant patches of empty seats, courtesy of Mike Acker from Rip City Project.
  • McMillan said both Nicolas Batum (right shoulder) and Marcus Camby (right shoulder) will receive treatment tomorrow morning and he's not sure whether they will play tomorrow night against the Golden State Warriors.
  • Joe Freeman reports Joel Przybilla (sprained ankle) is questionable for tomorrow. 
  • Wesley Matthews, who landed hard on his back in an open court collision, looked at me like I was crazy when I asked him for his health status, so you can be sure he will play tomorrow night.
  • Luke Babbitt, who has been in the D-League with the Idaho Stampede, received an emergency call to rejoin the team and is headed to Portland.
  • In a video shown on the big screen during a timeout, Greg Oden said he designed an entire dance to Jennifer Lopez's "Love Don't Cost A Thing."
  • There were new t-shirts all over the place in the Rose Garden. First, these "3 Goggles" shirts, which are pretty dope. Also, a few players and employees were wearing shirts that read "DRE 632," in honor of Andre Miller's consecutives games streak that was recently snapped. Jason Quick has a nice piece on the story behind the shirts.
  • Great work from Timmay! with the quick summary tonight. Always, but especially tonight.

Nate McMillan's Post-Game Comments

Proud of guys who played and won despite injuries?

I am. It was a gut check for our guys. Just continue to scrap. We had guys having to step into a different role, that's what it's about. If you have injuries, opportunities for other guys, and then those guys have to step in and play. Rudy, Patty, Dante, LaMarcus was big again. Tonight we lose Nicolas and Camby at halftime, Wesley and those guys had to log a lot of minutes tonight. We had to dig deep and make plays down the stretch to win the game. That's what you have to do in situations like this.

Marcus Camby and Nicolas Batum Health Status

They're pretty sore. Both have right shoulders. I think it's the right shoulder. Joel has a right ankle sprain. Three of those guys got banged up tonight. 

Injuries from before or did they happen during the game?

They were all injuries that occurred during the game. Camby dove for a loose ball. I think Nic got tied up in a loose ball situation. And Joel got tied up underneath the basket. Everything happened during the game. 

Rudy broke it open in one game

We know that he can do it. It was good to see him aggressive tonight, looking for his shots. Knocking down some shots. When he is opening up that floor for us by knocking down some threes, it really helps. Both he and LaMarcus had that two-man game working tonight. We needed his shooting tonight. 

How to get consistency from Rudy

Well, hopefully this game tonight gives him confidence and we've got another one tomorrow night. It's about getting your rhythm. The NBA game is about rhythm. Sometimes when you feel your rhythm coming, Rudy made some comments tonight, that tonight was the night. I guess he felt it tonight. Very aggressive, making plays going to the basket as well as knocking down the shot.

Mills in the fourth quarter rather than Miller

Well, it was working. Two things that were happening out there: Patty was doing a good job on Ridnour bringing the ball up the floor so we had some pressure there offensively. He was creating some opportunities. I thought about going with Dre late but just decided to stay with what was working. I thought he did a real nice job defending. Little Patty was trying to box out Kevin Love. You almost want to smile. He was scrapping. We needed that. He played a good game tonight.

LaMarcus stepping up in Brandon's absence

Normally in situations when Brandon is out, he is much more aggressive. What we gotta get is when the two of them are together, the same thing. I thought last game against Dallas, I liked the way he played in the post. Very aggressive, physical, attacking the basket. That carried over to tonight's game. It's something that is very capable of doing and we need that from him. He plays big defensively, trying to guard Beasley and Love. Offensively, he is the guy we are playing through.

Short-handed tomorrow night?

Well, we just called Luke Babbitt. If he's on a flight hopefully he'll get in here tomorrow. Right now I don't know if Camby and Nic are out for tomorrow's game. They'll get treatment tomorrow morning, they may be available. We've got to strap it up because we've got another game tomorrow. We've got Armon, all those guys have to be ready to go.

Pick and Roll very effective for LaMarcus rolling

Well, the roll is there. A lot of times we're settling for the jumpshot instead of rolling to the basket. The roll is there. Tonight both he and Rudy did a good job of executing that. Rudy came off screens hard, turning the corner, getting to the basket and freezing the defender. Normally that is a jumpshot but L.A. knows that Rudy will throw that lob and they connected on that a few times. That play, we kind of milked down the stretch.

Why does Aldridge have periods where he lacks aggression

Hopefully, this is something that he learns. Attacking, being more aggressive, not settling for the jumpshot. He can be more efficient and get to the free throw line. Really, add to his game. The last two games are games I feel he should be playing that style of basketball, attacking the basket, drawing the foul, stepping out on the big guy and run some pick and roll sets. He's been aggressive in that paint, part of that could be due to the fact that he knows he's the first option [without Brandon].

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter