This time it was Ricky Rubio lingering in the cold tub after the game, getting extra treatment in the training room, moving slowly, gingerly to his locker room long after Saturday’s game had ended.
“I got the hits for Kevin Martin and Kevin Love tonight,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.
Rubio smiled. Or was that grimaced? With both Martin and Love out of the game, and with center Nikola Pekovic missing his seventh consecutive game, the Timberwolves, led by a remarkably aggressive Rubio, played a gutty game but again lost their grip on it in the fourth quarter. The result: a 117-110 loss to Portland at Target Center.
It was not for lack of trying.
The Wolves knew hours before the game that Martin — who broke the thumb in his left (non-shooting) hand Friday in New Orleans — would be out. But it wasn’t until a half-hour before tipoff that word came that Love would be out, too, this time because of a quadriceps contusion. Those two plus Pekovic meant that those still standing had to make up for the loss of about 62 points per game.
They nearly did.
Rubio had a career night, hitting eight of 19 shots and going 2-for-4 on three-pointers on the way to 25 points and nine assists. He and rookie Shabazz Muhammad (12 points) each had career highs. Corey Brewer scored 26, Chase Budinger had 19 and Dante Cunningham had 14.
And it wasn’t enough against the league’s highest-scoring team.
“We couldn’t get stops,” Budinger said. “It happened all game. You let a team score about 120 points, it’s going to be tough to beat them.’’
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 26 points, six coming in a stretch in which Portland took over what was a tie game in the fourth quarter. C.J. McCollum scored 19 off the bench. Wesley Matthews scored 21, including 13 in the fourth quarter.
Indeed, given how different the Wolves lineup looked Saturday, it’s remarkable how familiar the game felt. Minnesota (24-27) lost its third consecutive and its fifth in six games in a very familiar manner.
Working hard and working together, the Wolves had a six-point lead late in the third quarter. But the Trail Blazers (36-15) scored the final six points of the quarter to tie the score at 83.
Early in the fourth quarter, with the score tied at 87, Aldridge scored six points in an 11-1 run that put Portland up 98-88. The Wolves trimmed it to five once, but never were able to get enough stops to get back into the game.
And if not having Pekovic, Martin and Love was an excuse, it didn’t make anyone feel better.
“Those are our big guns,” Brewer said. “All we could do is play hard and give ourselves a chance to win. We played our butts off tonight. We got some tough breaks in the fourth quarter, and we just couldn’t win it.”
Not when the Blazers score 34 fourth-quarter points. Not when the Wolves make only one of seven three-pointers in the fourth quarter. Different lineup, same result. And now the Wolves are three games under .500 for the first time since Jan. 17, and the schedule is getting harder.
Neither Pekovic nor Martin are expected to play until after the All-Star break. Love’s prognosis is less certain. He has played through an ankle injury and a whiplash-induced sore neck, but it’s unclear when he will be back.
And the Wolves are playing host to Houston on Monday and Denver on Wednesday before that break begins, two games against two Western Conference teams ahead of Minnesota in the standings.
“It’s hard, because he’s our best guy,” Rubio said of playing without Love. “Our guys stepped up today, did a pretty good job for 35, 36 minutes. At the end, we ran out of energy.’’