PORTLAND, ORE. – Just when the Timberwolves rid themselves of one statistical anomaly, another old one popped up again with Saturday night’s 115-104 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
One night after they won their first game decided by four points or fewer all season, the Wolves missed their 10th chance since the night before Thanksgiving to push themselves over .500 into winning territory and couldn’t do so on a night when they were battered and bruised and overmatched by the league’s most surprising success story so far this season.
“Well, it’s a back-to-back game against one of the best teams in the league,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said afterward. “It’s not going to be an easy game.”
And it certainly wasn’t.
Adelman tried to find some rest of hurting starters Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, but had to keep calling upon both as well as Kevin Martin for his scoring in a game when the disparity between the starters and the team’s bench proved problematic yet again.
The Blazers’ bench primarily put this one away, outscoring their Minnesota counterparts 35-14. It was responsible for a pair of 16-4 runs – one that opened the second quarter, the other that arrived midway through the fourth quarter – that pushed the Blazers to their first double-digit lead and then allowed them to stretch an 89-84 lead with 10 minutes left into an 105-88 bulge with 5 ½ minutes left.
The Wolves starters -- particularly the scoring of Martin (30 points) and Nikola Pekovic (23 points, 11 rebounds) and Ricky Rubio’s aggressive attacks at the basket – tried to keep them close. But with Love playing on a sore knee he banged Friday in Oakland and Rubio playing on a sprained ankle sustained there as well, Adelman couldn’t keep them on the floor long enough to counter a Blazers team that got 16 points from veteran reserve guard Mo Williams as well as valuable bench contributions from Thomas Robinson and rookie C.J. McCollum.
“Just trying to stay in the game,” Adelman said.
Another Love-LaMarcus Aldridge matchup at power forward turned into what Love called “much ado about nothing,” the two nearly canceling each other out while teammates assumed center stage. Love was limited to a 15-point, 13-rebound night both because of what he called the Blazers’ commitment to take him out of the offense and by pain after he had banged knees with Golden State’s Harrison Barnes the night before.
“This morning was one of those times when you jump out of bed and you think I don’t how I’m going to play tonight,” Love said. “But you muster up the energy to get do so: Get a good meal, get a good nap and lace them up and hopefully the adrenaline flows, which I think it did for some of us.”
Afterward, Rubio sat at his locker soaking his ankle in ice while his left hand was wrapped in ice as well as he said he hurt it Friday in Oakland. He played 37 minutes, Love 36 and Martin more than 41 when Chase Budinger was the only reserve who played more than 12 minutes and that was due in part to Corey Brewer’s early foul trouble.
Backup guard J.J. Barea played fewer than 11 minutes, not because, according to Adelman, of a bruised back sustained Friday but rather because Adelman felt he needed to keep his starters on the floor to stay in the game.
“Hanging in there, you know,” Rubio said about his physical condition. “This is the NBA. You play almost every night and when you get hurt, either you sit down or you give whatever you have. I did tonight. I was feeling good. I keep playing.”
The Wolves haven’t been over .500 since they were 8-7 on Nov. 23. Ten times since then, they have pushed their way to even and each time they have fallen back.
“It was tough today against a good team after back-to-back,” Rubio said. “We’re not looking where we’re at instead of our record. We just to get every night and play good and the record is going to come.”