Wolves once again falter at the end in 103-95 loss

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 24, 2012 - 7:53 AM

For the second consecutive game, Kevin Love and company started strong but couldn't hold a big lead.

PORTLAND, ORE. - With two-time All Star Kevin Love already back in the lineup and teammate Ricky Rubio perhaps not terribly far behind him, the Timberwolves left behind Target Center and a three-game home losing streak for a telling four-game Western road trip that began Friday with yet another loss, 103-95 at Portland.

Two weeks ago, the Wolves were 5-2 and owners of the franchise's best start in a decade.

Now, they are 5-6 and reeling until Love, Nikola Pekovic and J.J. Barea all return to full health and until Rubio gets back on the floor, which could be as early as next week for practice.

"We're a good team, we're going to get better," Love said afterward. "There are 71 more games. It's a long season. We're still in November."

Love returned to his hometown two nights after he was a surprise starter against Denver, and for the second consecutive game he and the Wolves built an early lead that they couldn't protect.

This time, they led by as many as 13 points in the second quarter and trailed by as many as 11 midway through the fourth because they couldn't stop a Blazers starting backcourt that shot nearly 68 percent from the field, made nine three-pointers and combined for 58 points and just two turnovers.

Rookie point guard Damian Lillard delivered a career-high 28 points and eight assists and Wes Matthews scored a season-high 30 on a night when they went 9-for-14 on threes while the Wolves went 3-for-18.

"They just couldn't miss, easy as that," Love said. "Just couldn't miss, those kinds of games happen."

Love and Pekovic got Blazers star forward LaMarcus Aldridge in foul trouble for much of the night. Andrei Kirilenko held down Blazers young star Nicolas Batum to a 3-for-10, nine-point shooting night in a matchup of the Wolves' top two small-forward, free-agent targets last summer.

And still the Wolves again faded away, allowing the Blazers a 13-0 run that ended the third quarter and began the fourth and completely changed the game's complexion while Aldridge sat on the bench with five fouls.

Lillard, Batum and Ronnie Price hit consecutive threes in that run, turning a 78-75 deficit in the third quarter's final minute into an 88-78 lead with 9:15 left when Matthews ended that run with a running layup.

Lillard clobbered the Wolves all night running the pick-and-roll and creating shots for Matthews.

Both players took 17 shots. Matthews made 12, Lillard 11.

"I know they missed some," Wolves guard J.J. Barea said. "But it didn't seem like it."

While New Orleans No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis started the season nagged by injuries, Lillard has established himself as the early leader for NBA Rookie of the Year.

"I really don't keep up with the young fellas like I used to," said Wolves veteran forward Josh Howard, whom Adelman turned to in the fourth quarter to defend Lillard some. "But he's one of the legit ones."

Love led the Wolves with a 24-point, 13-rebound double-double and Pekovic added one of his own with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Former No. 2 pick Derrick Williams didn't get off the bench for the second consecutive game.

Love made six of 15 field-goal attempts and 12 of 16 free throws in his second game back. His team shot 41 percent while Portland shot 54 percent and made nine of 18 threes in the final three quarters.

"We're going to hit those shots," Love said. "Between Denver and Portland, as time goes on, I feel we'll be better than them. It's still really early."


    Up next: 9:30 p.m. today at Golden State

    ORACLE Arena • TV: FSN (830-AM)

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