The Trail Blazers, facing a Minnesota team without their three leading scorers, decided to make it more difficult than it needed to be before stumbling to a predictable victory, 117-110.
There were a few themes here to touch on, but far and away the biggest was this: why in the name of Blaze the Trail Cat did Portland not go to LaMarcus Aldridge more often?
Dude finished 12-16 from the field for his 26 points (chipping in 9 boards, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks), and looked totally unstoppable. To be fair, when your best defense against LMA consists of Dante Cunningham and Ronny Turiaf. Looking anything besides “unstoppable” would probably be an insult. Aldridge had whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it, and that’s despite looking a bit tired and contributing to the world’s slowest fast-break dunk off a sick behind-the-back pass off the steal from Wes Matthews. Is Aldridge an All-Star? Yes. Does his 26 and 9 reflect the best he could offer tonight? Not even close. But that’s what makes him an All-Star: even on nights when he’s playing with a 60% energy bar, he looks amazing.
This game also never felt like the Blazers were going to blow Minnesota out of the water, which is frustrating considering that the Timberwolves, without Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, or Kevin Martin, were without 43 points per game, 26 boards, and 7 assists. That’s a hole big enough to drive a snow plow through, and the Blazers should have taken advantage.
They didn’t. And no, being on the second game of a back-to-back is no excuse, because Minnesota was doing the same.
It is also clear that Lillard is still a liability on defense. He got into early foul trouble because he was unable to stay in front of Ricky Rubio, his second foul coming on the offensive end as Rubio flipped and flopped a little bit of contact into looking like he’d been hit by a train.
CJ McCollum, who nearly doubled his previous career high (10) with 19 points, looked much more able on the defensive end. Maybe it was the short-handed Wolves, but maybe it’s that the Blazers have found a suitable alternative to Mo Williams. At any rate, McCollum (who also added 3 boards, 3 assists, and 2 steals to his line) has responded very well since being benched against the Knicks, averaging 14 points over that two-game stretch.
The recap of this game is pretty simple: a back-and-forth affair when you expected something closer to a blowout, punctuated by stressful Minnesota runs, and capped by a Blazers run with 8 minutes to go in the game that gave them 9 straight and an insurmountable lead.
Other notables included Wes Matthews, who might deserve the game ball after McCollum for continuing where he left off against the Pacers with 21 points (6-14 from the field and 3-5 from deep) and 6 assists, as well as Nicolas Batum, who bounced back from an awful game to tally 15, 4, and 5 with a steal.
The unsung hero award goes to Robin Lopez with his 11 rebounds, 7 points, and 4 blocks (which maybe should have been 5 or 6). As he often does, Lopez kept things calmer and more in control than they otherwise would have been during times of turbulence long enough for the Blazers to regain their footing.
Joel Freeland also looked about as good as ever, going 5-6 for 11 points and 5 rebounds in his 18 minutes.
The lowlight: Damian Lillard, whose 14 points came off 3-10 shooting. He managed just 4 assists to go with them. After a nice game in Indiana, he’s slipped back into his multi-game slump. At this point, you’d just like to see him string a couple of good games together.
Also notable: the Blazers bench had 34 points. That may seem somewhat pedestrian, but considering they scored just 13 last game and average a league-low 22.6, that’s damn near a miracle.
The Blazers also had 28 assists to Minnesota’s 17.
The Blazers went 2-2 on this road trip, winning the games they needed to and losing the games you might expect. All in all, this will hopefully serve as a somewhat stabilizing stretch during a rough patch in their season.
Portland gets a few days off before facing the Oklahoma City Thunder at the RoseModa GardenCenter on Tuesday, Feb. 11th at 7:00 p.m. PST.