Wolves push Blazers back, but too late

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 6, 2013 - 3:10 AM

Hot-shooting Portland built a 22-point lead, then had to hang on after the shorthanded Wolves mounted a late charge.

If the Timberwolves play the way they did the final nine minutes of Saturday's 102-97 loss to Portland at Target Center, this series with the Trail Blazers will turn into the rivalry it's just itching to be.

If they play like they did the first 39 mind-numbing minutes, their hometown fans will find something other than a Vikings- Packers playoff game to distract themselves next time.

The Wolves -- and an announced audience of 16,220 multitaskers -- seemingly had their attention focused elsewhere for more than three quarters before they chopped a 22-point, third-quarter deficit down to two points with 79 seconds left, before losing to a team they're chasing for one of the Western Conference's playoff spots.

Afterward, Wolves coach Rick Adelman lamented how his players "hung their heads" for far too long when they learned Saturday that teammate Kevin Love had broken his hand for the second time this season and now will be lost again for a matter of weeks.

They begin the night with Love out again and with Ricky Rubio sidelined for a third consecutive game because of a hurting back. They then lost starting center Nikola Pekovic because of a strained hip in the third quarter after he had already delivered a 21-point, 15-rebound night.

They allowed the Blazers a franchise record-tying 16 three-pointers and trailed 73-51 with four minutes left in the third before a 19-3 fourth-quarter run got them back in a game they just didn't have energy to finally bring home.

"We didn't compete like we need to compete," Adelman said. "I don't care who's hurt, who's out, whatever it is. That's not who we are. The last nine minutes, that's how we have to play. That's how we have to compete. You don't hang your head. You force the issue."

The Wolves finally forced the issue with Andrei Kirilenko and Dante Cunningham each playing 42 1/2 minutes in Love's absence and with Derrick Williams scoring all of his 18 points in a fourth quarter. Williams' dunk with 1:19 left got the Wolves within 96-94 but no closer.

But Wolves guard J.J. Barea threw the ball into the front row when his team had a chance to tie the score with 50 seconds left. Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge then sank the kind of shot over Cunningham that All-Stars make, giving Portland a 98-94 lead with 37 seconds left.

"If we had played with that intensity a little bit earlier, it would have helped us," Barea said. "They were making everything, and we let that bother us. We can't let that bother us. We kept on fighting and we had our chances at the end. We spent a lot of energy and it was tough, but we definitely had our chances."

The Blazers ended a tough four-game trip 3-1 and took a 2-0 season lead in a series between two teams that have contested each other off the court as much as on it.

The Wolves gave Nicolas Batum a $45 million offer sheet that Portland matched last season after such a convoluted dance.

Legal action taken by the Wolves -- claiming Portland knowingly dealt them damaged goods in a 2010 Martell Webster trade --- didn't help, either. The teams recently reached an undisclosed settlement.

And come next summer, the Blazers have $13 million to spend on a center -- possibly Pekovic.

"They didn't like us when we were trying to get Batum," Adelman said before Batum made five threes and scored 26 points. "But it looks like we were trying to make the right move to me."

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