Honest-to-goodness blowouts have been rarities for the Portland Trail Blazers this season. Whenever the Blazers develop a healthy lead they get charitable and give 90% of it back. Not so tonight. The Minnesota Timberwolves came into this game down 5 key players and played like they felt the absence of every one. Portland obliterated them in the first quarter and never looked back, earning an easy (and welcome) 116-91 victory.
Let's get this out of the way early. This incarnation of the Timberwolves is bad. We're talking Los Angeles Lakers-level bad. Without Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Garnett, and Gorgui Dieng (to name a few) they ended up starting Adreian Payne, Justin Hamilton, and Zach LaVine alongside Kevin Martin and Andrew Wiggins. This was not going to work out for them.
In the first period the 'Wolves tapped two sources of scoring: fast break points and Andrew Wiggins. That propelled them to 19 points in the period. Meanwhile LaMarcus Aldridge scored 15 all by himself, leading his team to 29 first-quarter points.
After that the Blazers quit giving up transition buckets and it was all downhill for Minnesota from there. It was as if the T-Wolves came looking to chew bubble gum and kick butt and they ran out of bubble gum and butts. Wiggins would end up scoring 29 on 9-22 shooting (plus 11-15 from the foul line) but that wasn't enough to win the Timberwolves a single quarter, let alone the game.
I'd like to say Portland's defense was great, holding Minnesota to 38% from the field and 27% from the arc but who knows? The 'Wolves may have shot that percentage in an empty gym. We do know Portland played smart offense throughout the game. Minnesota's defense wasn't stalwart but the Blazers seldom devolved into one-on-one tomfoolery. They passed the rock, moved to open spots, and sank easy buckets, shooting 49% from the field and 36% (12-33) from the arc. The 'Wolves drew 29 foul shots but the Blazers attempted 23 of their own. That speaks well of their focus. In this type of game it's awfully easy to succumb to "doesn't matter-itis" and loft jumpers. Portland kept hammering away even as they led and the refs rewarded them despite the natural temptation to favor the trailing team. Portland actually ended up outscoring Minnesota 38-34 in the lane...another good sign.
Helping with that paint total: excellent rebounding. From the outset the Blazers blasted the 'Wolves on the boards. Minnesota stood helpless as Robin Lopez, Chris Kaman, Meyers Leonard, and Aldridge collected their teammates' misses and deposited them home again...and again. Portland's resolve on the glass never wavered and this, as much as anything, shut the T-Wolves out of the game, turning a win into a massacre.
As you might gather from the score, the Blazers bench got plenty of run in this one. With CJ McCollum, Chris Kaman, and Meyers Leonard leading the charge they held up their end of the bargain. Portland's reserves scored 42 points on 16-34 shooting, a darn sight better than Minnesota's 15 points on 6-20.
It's hard to judge much from a game like this so we'll touch briefly on the most significant achievements.
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 24 on 10-16 shooting with 13 rebounds. A 2-year-old with his hand in the cookie jar would have a better answer than Minnesota had for Aldridge tonight.
Nicolas Batum had a non-anxious, totally-aggressive evening featuring 3-4 three-point shooting. Those two descriptors don't seem to go together but if you've watched Nic play this year, you'll know what I mean (and how nice it was to see this kind of game from him).
Robin Lopez came out of his offensive slump with 7-8 shooting and 18 points, plus 3 offensive rebounds. It was nice for Lopez to get an easy night.
Every party needs one pooper. Arron Afflalo filled that role for the Blazers, scoring the first 4 points of the game and not a single one after, shooting 1-7 on the evening.
CJ McCollum continued his excellent offense, shooting 6-12 for 13 points, his only sin being 1-5 shooting from distance. He's peaking heading into the end of the season. I have a hunch his first couple playoff games will be critical. If he breaks through he may continue this run all the way to the end. If he gets blunted early, it'll seem like a too-good-to-be-true mirage. 2 steals capped off CJ's night. The guy has quick hands.
Chris Kaman dominated the glass and threw the lack of footwork and size among Minnesota's bigs into stark relief.
Meyers Leonard had 10 rebounds in 19 minutes and hit a three. He grabbed some less-than-obvious caroms tonight too. He's starting to get more comfortable in traffic...a good sign.
Allen Crabbe hit a couple of three-pointers and Alonzo Gee canned one as well. Gee's ability to defend stands out, even in short minutes. He always looks ready on that end.
Miscellaneous Game Notes
The Moda Center featured organ music for a couple of quarters tonight. It was interesting but as a wise swami on top of a mountain once said, "Strategically-played organ is cool. my son. Incessantly-played organ...not as much." Also it'd be awesome if the organist expanded their repertoire to go beyond duplicating "Let's Go Blazers" and "De-FENSE" chants. The opportunity for musical puns is too good to pass up. "Livin' on a Prayer" on a desperation heave, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" after a scuffle, "Walk Like an Egyptian" after the refs miss an opponent traveling, some version of "Fly" when Zach LaVine dunks...spread your wings, keyboard dude!
Despite the victory the Blazers remain 1 game behind the 6th-place San Antonio Spurs and 5th-place Los Angeles Clippers in the loss column, 2 games behind the 3rd-place Houston Rockets and 2nd-place Memphis Grizzlies. By virtue of their Northwest Division win the Blazers will finish no lower than 4th in the playoff seeding but they will not earn homecourt in the 4-5 matchup if their opponent carries a better record.
Canis Hoopus (Maybe not such a pleasant place right now.)
Congratulations to Trail Blazers Head Trainer Geoff Clark who has been named the NBA's Trainer of the Year.
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