PORTLAND, ORE. – If it’s possible for an NBA team now 14-35 to have an opponent right where it wanted it, the Timberwolves might have done so in Sunday’s 96-93 loss at Portland.
The Wolves shot just 30 percent in the first quarter and didn’t make a three-point shot until the final one.
“I was laughing with the coaches on the bench that first quarter,” Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell said afterward. “I was saying, ‘This is it. We’ve got a chance to win. Missed shots, this is our M.O.’ It seems like when we miss shots, we play better defense.”
The Wolves held the three-point-loving Blazers to just three made threes through the first three quarters but couldn’t keep a team still aimed at the Western Conference playoffs despite a losing record down forever.
The Blazers made as many threes in the fourth quarter as they did in those first three quarters and set up Al-Farouq Aminu’s important, repelling three-point shot midway through the fourth quarter by grabbing back-to-back offensive rebounds. The Wolves otherwise pounded them 15-8 in that category.
The Wolves allowed those two offensive rebounds when they least could have afforded to do so — after they had pulled within 74-72 with 7 ½ minutes left — and missed nine free throws Sunday, too.
“It’s the little things that add up at the end of the game,” said Wolves rookie center Karl-Anthony Towns, whose 21-point, 13-rebound, three-block night brought praise from Blazers star guard Damian Lillard.
This time, those little things added up meant the Wolves’ fourth consecutive loss and the 19th in their 23 games. In the midst of a seven-game home stand, the Blazers, meanwhile, won their fourth consecutive game and beat the Wolves for the eighth consecutive time in Portland after their Lillard-C.J. McCollum backcourt combined for 42 points.
Each of them scored 21, even though together they combined to shoot 1-for-10 on three-pointers.
Wolves young star Andrew Wiggins followed Friday’s five-point, zero-rebound, zero-assist game in a loss at Utah by shooting 3-for-18 from the field. But this time, he did other things: He shot 12 free throws and made nine and grabbed nine rebounds, five of them offensive.
“I couldn’t make my midrange shots and everything like that, even layups around the rim that are easy to make,” Wiggins said. “So I just tried to rebound and make the team better.”
Bypassed by the Wolves with the ninth pick in the 2013 draft and taken a slot later by Portland, McCollum scored eight of his 21 points in a third quarter when the Blazers built a 12-point lead after they had trailed by eight points in the first quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Lillard scored nine of his 21 points, getting to the free-throw line for eight attempts and making seven of those.
“It’s the NBA,” Mitchell said. “Guys make shots. That’s what those two guys do.”
Two nights after they were undone by Utah’s 14-0 run that ended the third quarter, Mitchell made some adjustments, seeking unsuccessfully to stop his team’s 27th loss in 33 games since it started the season 8-8.
He brought Towns back to start the fourth quarter after just a brief 84-second rest at the end of the third quarter. With veteran guard Kevin Martin out for the fourth consecutive game and Wiggins on the bench resting, he paired veteran point guard Andre Miller with Zach LaVine for a stretch early in the fourth quarter, just as he had in the first half.
None of that kept the Blazers from a 12-2 run that essentially won the game after Towns had tied it at 74 by making the Wolves’ first three-point shot all night, with 8:48 left.