You can go back home again. Kevin Love and Martell Webster proved it Saturday night by leading the Wolves back to .500 with a 122-110 victory at Portland that broke a 16-game losing streak to the Blazers.
The Wolves hadn’t won at the Rose Garden since December 2005, back when Love was leading his Lake Oswego, Ore., team to state high-school tournaments and Derrick Williams was in the eighth grade, playing video games.
Love came home to Portland and completely outplayed LaMarcus Aldridge in that power forward matchup with LaMarcus Aldridge (even though Love defended the Blazers center much of the night) for the first time in Love’s first four NBA seasons that I can remember.
His 42-point night came within one of his career-high, a 43-point game in Denver in December of last season. And he had the chance to reach 43 but missed the first of two free throws with the outcome already decided and 64 seconds remaining.
He was 4-for-4 on threes by halftime and finished 5-for-8 and 15-for-27 overall and just reached yet another double-double by getting his 10th rebound late in the game.
He stretched the Blazers’ defense with his shooting in the first half, then put on a hard hat and took his defender down to the basket in the second half.
By my count, he had four dunks, which might be some kind of record for him.
After missing Wednesday’s game against the Lakers because he was ill, Love for the second straight game again played more than 40 minutes, this time actually more than 43 minutes.
“Great,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said about Love’s performance. “We knew that he had improved and the one thing we talked about, we needed to stay close to him and crowd him. We lost him early in the first half. The second half, he took us down in the post. We didn’t get double-teams down on him quick enough…He just dominated the game.”
Newly re-signed Blazers center Joel Przybilla on Love’s night: “He has been like that all season honestly. Look at his numbers he puts up nightly. I’m sure being back home definitely made him want to play well. But he’s a special player.”
Some other things about a night when the Wolves’ 122 points were their season high, two more than the 120 they scored at Houston in late January.
You’ll find the game story from Saturday’s game here, btw, and check out the locker room video that has interviews with Love, Williams and Webster and should be imbedded in the blog here shortly.
* Webster hasn’t moved into the starting lineup – and from listening to Rick Adelman nightly it doesn’t sound like he wants to make any changes during an onrushing season when there’s no practice time to adjust – but he’s moving in on some of Wes Johnson’s playing time at small forward.
Johnson started again but played 8 ½ minutes after getting two fouls early in the game and then picking up two more trying to defend Gerald Wallace to start the third quarter. So Rick Adelman called up Webster to play 34-plus minutes both at shooting guard and then alongside Ricky Rubio/J.J. Barea and Luke Ridnour at small forward.
He made 7 of 10 shots, scored those season-high 21 points, had eight rebounds, too.
And more than anything, he continued to look like he’s playing himself into shape and into a really nice rhythm after having those two neck surgeries within 11 months of each other.
“The main thing is you can’t get frustrated with the injury and expect to come back and play when you were your most athletic,” Webster said. “For me, early it was a little frustrating because I knew where I should be and it wasn’t quite there.”
He said a sports psychologist friend told him to be patient, that these things will come in time and he shouldn’t just expect it all to happen right away.
“I just let the game come to me, I’ve been sticking to the game plan, not try to hunt for shots and it turned out well,” he said. “I’m starting to get my legs back, get my rhythm back and stayed the course.”
· * Williams finished the four-game road trip just like he started, with a big fourth quarter that helped propel the Wolves to the victory after they turned a game tied at 84 by scoring 11 unanswered points and 15 of the next 17 points.
The Wolves scored 38 points in the fourth after they had started the game by scoring 40 in the first quarter. Both quarters were the most the Blazers have allowed this season.
Williams played the entire fourth quarter at the power forward spot when the Wolves went small with two point guards again in the backcourt, Webster at small forward and Love at center.
He scored nine of his 15 points in that fourth quarter.
Included was a crucial and rare four-point play when he made a three-pointer, drew the foul and then made the free throw to immediately answer the Blazers after they had stopped that 11-0 run temporarily with an Aldridge bucket.
Williams’ big play pushed the lead from nine points back to 13 with 7:41 left and the Blazers never got closer than nine again.
“Derrick played big,” Webster said. “That kid makes some big shots. He’s so young, he doesn’t realize how big of an impact they are. He was just out there playing on instincts.”
Did you notice that Michael Beasley didn’t play at all in the second half after he played 13-plus minutes in the first but didn’t take care of the ball repeatedly in that second quarter when the Blazers turned a 14-point, first-quarter deficit into a brief three-point lead.
Officially, Beasley had just one turnover and three fouls in that quarter, but more than once failed to gather the ball on passes or attack when his defender, Gerald Wallace, was roaming everywhere looking for steals
Wallace had a season-high five steals. Four of them came in the second quarter when he was matched against Beasley at the small forward.
“I think we got really casual,” Adelman said. “We turned it over, acted like the game was over with. Gerald Wallace was running around and stealing it from everybody and the guy that he was guarding needed to be more active…I think they surprised us with their aggressiveness.”
· Rubio tied a club record with his 10 assists in a first quarter when the Wolves shot 68 percent, built a 14-point lead and scored 40 points by quarter’s end, the most they have scored in a first quarter this year.
He got two more the rest of the night and finished with 12 on a night when he once again went 1-for-8 from the field but still affected the game in a significant way.
· Barea came back after one-game away with that strained calf and played nearly 19 minutes off the bench while wearing a compression sleeve on it. He scored six points and had a couple assists and turnovers each.
He seemed to be walking well after the game and he seemed in a good mood. If you watch the accompanying video from the locker room, you’ll notice the camera shake during Webster’s interview. That was Barea reaching over my shoulder to jolt the camera in a drive-by bit of playfulness as he left the locker room.
· * Did you get a good look at Blazers guard Jamal Crawford tonight? There might be a reasonable chance that he could be that legitimate shooting guard they’ve been looking for.
As I blogged before the game, I talked with him pregame about how he came “really close” to signing with the Wolves in December. From the way he spoke, he sure sounded like he wished he had.
He said the Wolves wanted him to be patient after they had already signed Barea to a four-year deal, but he said he wanted to get into training camp on time and he chose Portland over Sacramento, his two finalists.
The Blazers now have lost six of eight at home after starting the season 7-2 overall and if they continue in this downward spiral for the next 10 days, they might be willing to deal him before they even have the chance to opt out of his contract this summer.
He’s starting at point guard – not shooting guard – of necessity for Blazers coach Nate McMillan, who soured on Ray Felton as his starter there. He scored 23 points on 8 for 14 shooting and really heated up in the second half, scoring 10 in the third and eight in the fourth.
· * Nobody asked me, but…if I were the Wolves, I’d squirrel away all my cap money and keep my assets at trade deadline and make a play for Blazers swingman Nicolas Batum this summer when he will be a restricted free agent.
The guy is exactly what the Wolves need on the wing: A fierce, versatile defender who can guard as many as four positions. An excellent three-point shooter who can spread the floor when Rubio penetrates. He can play both wing positions; he started at shooting guard tonight and scored 29 points in 40-plus minutes.
And he’s still very young – just turned 23 in December – and looks like he continues to get better and better handling the ball every year.
Well, that’s it from Portland – actually from somewhere over South Dakota as I jet home on a red-eye flight tonight to end 11 days away – for tonight.
This time, I’ll actually beat the Wolves home. Usually they charter home right after games. Except on the West Coast, where they stay overnight and fly the next day because they don’t want to disrupt players’ body clocks by having them arrive at home at dawn after a late-night West Coast game.
The Wolves will take Sunday off and play the Clippers at home Monday.
Three of the four teams the Wolves saw on this just completed trip – Clippers, Lakers, Blazers – they’ll see again this week at home.