GameDay Blog: Wolves vs. Blazers - Jan. 5, 2013

by Mark Remme
Web Editor

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Final: That will do it here from Target Center. The Wolves cut the Blazers' lead down from 22 to two, but in the end Portland hit enough free throws to leave town with a 102-97 win. Check throughout the night for analysis, interviews, highlights and photos from tonight's game. Final: POR 102, MIN 97

Q4 50.2: OK, this one is still very much in doubt. The Wolves just went on a 7-0 run thanks to a D-Will dunk, a pair of Ridnour free throws and an AK 3-pointer. They are trailing 96-94 with 50.2 seconds left. They did just turn the ball over and it is Portland ball, but they are still in position to pull this one out. POR 96, MIN 94

Q4 1:57: The Blazers might have just sealed this one as Wesley Matthews, who once competed in the Timberwolves Shootout as a high schooler, drained a 3-pointer that makes it a nine-point game with 1:57 left. Wolves ball. POR 96, MIN 87

Q4 3:27: The Wolves are not going away here. It's a 91-84 game and they have the ball with 3:27 left. Both teams are coming up with some big stops, but this is another opportunity for Minnesota to close this to a one-possession game. POR 91, MIN 84

Q4 5:43: Don't give up on this one just yet. The Blazers were up 22 at one point, but it's a seven-point game with 5:43 left after a big 3-pointer by JJ Barea that nearly scraped the Target Center roof cut this Portland lead to 91-84. Could be a good finish here in Minneapolis. POR 91, MIN 84

Q4 9:08: Update on Pek: He is questionable to return tonight with a left hip strain. Another tough injury blow for this Wolves team that can't quite seem to catch a break. He's currently on the bicycle behind the bench and has been talking with physical therapist Andre Deloya. POR 88, MIN 72

End Q3:If you're looking for the key to tonight's game so far, it's been all Nicolas Batum, Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews. They've scored 63 of the Blazers' 79 points tonight. Meanwhile, Pek left the game and went to the locker room late in the third but was back on the bench as the fourth quarter starts. He's got 21 points and 15 rebounds, eight on the offensive end, and has really been a bright spot for the Wolves tonight. POR 79, MIN 61

Q3 6:45: This isn't the start the Wolves were hoping for to begin the third. The Blazers are on a 12-6 run and are really taking control here with 6:45 left in the frame. One of the biggest differences right now is 3-point production. The Blazers are 10-of-17, while the Wolves are 1-of-8 from behind the arc. POR 65, MIN 49

Halftime: The Timberwolves cut the Blazers lead to 10 at the end of the half, which is a promising feat considering the Blazers did have a 12-0 run and a 9-0 run earlier in the half. Nikola Pekovic is leading the way with 15 points and 11 rebounds in the first half--really filling the void the team has without Love in the lineup on the glass. He already has six offensive rebounds tonight. AK is 4-of-7 with eight points tonight, and JJ Barea has brought a spark off the bench again with seven points of 3-of-6 shooting at the half. The challenge is going to be containing Nicolas Batum's 16 points, 14 more from Wesley Matthews and 13 points from Damian Lillard. Those three are 14-of-23 on the night.
POR 43, MIN 43

Q2 1:43: Andrei Kirilenko just put together an unbelievable second and third effort sticking with a play that involved being stripped twice and still putting enough english on a shot right underneath the back board to will it in. He followed it up with another shot, this one more conventional for a long 2, and it's 50-40 Portland. POR 50, MIN 40

Q2 6:08: The Wolves just snapped a 12-0 run by Portland with a 3-pointer by JJ Barea, and Nikola Pekovic scored on a tip-in moments later to cut the Blazers' lead to nine. They're coming out of a full Portland timeout with Barea, Shved, AK, DC and Pek on the floor. POR 37, MIN 28

Q2 8:59: This is what Adelman was talking about with injuries in his pregame interview. With people out, it changes all of the team's rotations. Tonight the Wolves opened up the second quarter with JJ Barea, Lazar Hayward, Derrick Williams, Lou Amundson and Greg Stiemsma. It's going to be an adjustment with this second unit getting used to playing together in real time, because they haven't had a lot of time working together in game situations. In the meantime, the Wolves are down by nine as the Blazers are currently on a 9-0 run. POR 32, MIN 21

End Q1: At the end of the first, the Wolves withstood a Blazers 9-0 run that pushed their lead to six, countering with two baskets near the end of the quarter that make it a 23-21 game heading into the second. JJ Barea checked in and immediately made an impact on the scoreboard, driving to the basket and putting in a quick lay-up that ended the Portland 9-0 run. That's the type of behavior that Portland coach Terry Stotts commented on pregame. Stotts was an assistant in Dallas while Barea played for the Mavs, and he said a lot of those memories came back while watching Barea score 12 fourth-quarter points against the Nuggets on Thursday. POR 23, MIN 21

Q1 3:50: Let's take a moment to talk about Pek's game a little bit more here early in the first. With Love out, Pekovic is stepping up big in the paint and making an impact on both ends of the floor. He's got nine points on 4-of-9 shooting, but he's also got five boards with four coming on the offensive end. With Love out, Pek is going to need to carry quite a bit of weight in the rebounding department. He's up to the task so far, and he's also rollling hard through the middle of the paint and creating open looks for himself. MIN 17, POR 14

Q1 5:48: The Wolves came out strong in the first few minutes of this contest, taking an early 6-2 lead before Nicolas Batum put together a personal 5-0 run that put the Blazers up 7-6. But the Wolves came back with a nice jumper from the baseline by Dante Cunningham and some powerful play by Nikola Pekovic down low, and it's a 12-12 game at the first timeout. The Wolves are 6-of-16 from the field, but they're making up for the low field goal percentage with six offensive rebounds in the first seven minutes. MIN 12, POR 12

Starting Lineups:
Blazers: PG-Damian Lillard, SG-Wesley Matthews, SF-Nicolas Batum, PF-LaMarcus Aldridge, C-JJ Hickson

Timberwolves: PG-Luke Ridnour, SG-Alexey Shved, SF-Andrei Kirilenko, PF-Dante Cunningham, C-Nikola Pekovic

Pregame 6:50 PM: Adelman made the point that adjusting without an injured player creates a domino effect that was unforeseen. Now, with Love out players need to adjust into his role, and someone else needs to adjust into a different reserve role, etc. And that continues across the board, not just at the power forward position but at other spots on the floor.

"After a while in this league you can, like the game the other night. We can finish that game, we can win that game," Adelman said. "You can do it over a period of time, but everybody has different responsibilities on the team. that's the hardest part."

Adelman said when you move people around, it creates a new dynamic for everyone.

"Everyone one the team has to find a way to play at a high level every night," Adelman said. "Because our margin of error is slim."

Still, he knows the Wolves have answered nearly every challenge they've faced this year.

"I do believe in this team," he said. "I've seen them respond time after time after time. You hope we're able to do that again."

Pregame: 6:40 PM: One thing Adelman mentioned in his pregame interview was that the Wolves have found ways to keep fighting despite all the injuries that have occurred this year, many of them to their projected starting five. The latest is Love's second stint with a broken right hand. Still, some how the Wolves come into tonight with a 15-14 record.

"This team does have a resolve about them," Adelman said. "Whatever happens, they come to practice, they come to games, they just do their jobs. You hope you have enough talent and enough going on that you can win games, but I've never been through anything like this. It's just been constant all year long."

Starting lineups coming up in about 20 minutes.

Pregame: 6:20 PM: Wolves coach Rick Adelman has learned a that anything is possible when it comes to injuries, and it rang true again tonight with news of Love's broken right hand. Love impacts the game in so many ways, whether it's spacing the floor, collecting rebounds with his innate technique or putting up big numbers on the scoreboard.

"He's a huge part of what we were hoping to do, and now we have to find different ways to do it," Adelman said.

Adelman said he's unsure how severe the injury is, only that after seeing the additional swelling after the game in Denver that he figured Love would miss more than one game. He just didn't envision it being broken again.

"Last time it was five weeks, but it depends on who serious it is," Adelman said. "It could be longer than that or not. It's just one of those things. We have a real tough stretch coming up here, so it's not the best timing. But it is what it is."

Pregame 6:10 PM: Blazers coach Terry Stotts said the dynamic of the Wolves team changes a big when Kevin Love is not on the floor, and there will be a necessary adjustment tonight with Love sidelined with his broken right hand. The style of play fluctuates without Love, Stotts said, and it shifts some extra weight onto the play of Minnesota's back court.

"Obviously, you saw in Denver where it became much more perimeter-oriented," Stotts said. "The ball was in—they have three great playmakers with [Alexey]Shved, [JJ] Barea and [Luke] Ridnour, so they become a little bit more perimeter-oriented. Their rebounding is going to be a different type of rebounding, but I think the fundamentals of the game stay the same."

Slowing Barea in particular down has been difficult for teams in the past two weeks, particularly when the game has been on the line. Stotts said he had a smile on his face when he watched the end of the Denver game the other night because it reminded him a lot of Barea's play when he was with the Mavericks. Stotts was an assistant coach in Dallas from 2008-2012 and was there when Barea helped them win the NBA title in 2011.

"I had seen JJ do that in Dallas many, many times," he said. "And he's very deceptive with his quickness, his change of pace, whether we blitz him, whether we try and get the ball out of his hands, but certainly having been with JJ as long as I have, I have a lot of respect for what he can do, individually and for the team."

Guard Wesley Matthews simply said with or without Love, the Wolves area team that Portland can't take lightly.

"They're still active, they rebound well," Matthews said. "They lose a big piece with Kevin Love—he's a force outside, definitely a great rebounder. But they're still a good team. They still have players who can and are willing to step up."

Pregame 5:25 PM: Devastating news for the Timberwolves again this afternoon as Kevin Love underwent an MRI that revealed he re-fractured his right hand against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday. This is the latest string of events that have really hampered Love this season, and it certainly puts strain on the Timberwolves' depth chart as they try to continue to stay near or above .500 one-third of the way through the season. More info to come on this, as well as pregame comments from both head coaches as we near tonight's 7 p.m. tipoff. Stay tuned.

Pregame 4:00 PM: It’s already been a busy day at Target Center, as the 17th annual Timberwolves Shootout is wrapping up right now with a big crowd on hand for the nightcap between Apple Valley and Robbinsdale Cooper. The draw is to watch two national top 10 recruits Tyus Jones and Rashad Vaughn go head to head, and it’s brought significant notoriety. North Carolina coach Roy Williams and Gophers coach Tubby Smith are sitting next to one another courtside, and former Wolves player and current Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg is just three seats down. Meanwhile, behind the baseline a group of Gophers players including Trevor Mbakwe, Joe Coleman and Rodney Williams are taking in the matchup.

As for the Wolves, tonight’s game is crucial in the Western Conference playoff race as Minnesota takes on a Portland team that just leapfrogged from ninth to seventh in the West with an impressive road win at Memphis last night. They’ll need to do it without Kevin Love (sprained finger on right hand) and Ricky Rubio (back spasms), who are each listed as out for the evening.

Each night is pivotal in the West if you’re a fringe playoff team because of the movement each win and loss creates in the standings, but it’s doubly important considering Minnesota is about to embark on a four-game road trip after Tuesday’s home tilt against Atlanta. That trip includes stops in Oklahoma City, New Orleans, San Antonio and Dallas, meaning taking care of business at home is that much more crucial for this team with aspiring playoff hopes.

The Wolves lost in Portland in late November due to a fourth quarter Blazers surge, and they’ll look to hold the Blazers in check down the stretch tonight. Guard Luke Ridnour said while Portland’s rookie point guard Damian Lillard is a big factor, their entire starting five poses issues.

“They play a lot of minutes,” Ridnour said. “[LaMarcus] Aldridge is always tough. They’ve been playing well, and it’s going to be a good game.”

Ridnour acknowledged that tonight’s home game against a divisional opponent with playoff implications is big for this team, especially with the final push before the All-Star Break coming up.

“January is a big month going into All-Star Break,” Ridnour said. “You’ve got to get things going and get some momentum going into the break and just hang around and make a push for the playoffs.

“These home games, I feel like we’ve given a few away. So we’ve got to get these games at home. Portland, a division game, this is a big game.”

Here are some pregame notes as we get set for tonight’s matchup:

  • The Wolves trail in the series 26-65 and are 15-29 at home. The Blazers have won 18 of the last 20 meetings between the two clubs, including a 103-95 win in Portland on Nov. 23, 2012.
  • If the Wolves win tonight to go to 16-14, it will match their best start since compiling the same mark in 2004-05. The Wolves are 7-0 this season when scoring 100+ points and 0-6 when scoring less than 90 points.
  • Minnesota has recorded 12 double-digit rebounding margins this season --- they had 10 in 2011-12. The Wolves lead the NBA in rebounding differential at +5.48 per game.
  • The Wolves rank 4th in the NBA in free throw attempts per game (25.8) and have allowed the 3rd fewest free throw attempts (19.9). Minnesota has attempted 30+ FTs in a game 12 times this season and allowed less than 20 FTs in a game 13 times.
  • Nikola Pekovic is averaging 18.9 ppg, on 52.7% shooting, and 9.5 rpg over the last 11 games. He has recorded 9 double-doubles this season.
  • J.J. Barea has scored in double-digits in 14 of the last 15 games, averaging 12.5 points, on 44.2% shooting, and 4.5 assists over that stretch.
  • Alexey Shved has started the last 10 games, averaging 12.4 points and 6.3 assists over that span. He ranks 2nd among rookies in assists (4.6) and 5th in scoring (11.1).
  • Andrei Kirilenko needs 2 steals to reach 1000 for his career and 3 assists for 2000. When he reaches these milestones, he'll become just the 15th player in NBA history to collect 2000+ assists, 1000+ steals and 1000+ blocks for a career.
  • Portland has won 9 of its last 12 games and is currently 7th in the Western Conference, a few percentage points ahead of Denver and 1/2 game ahead of Minnesota.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge has scored in double-digits in all 30 of the games he's played this year, and has a current streak of 56 games scoring in double-figures. He has 13 double-doubles on the season, including the last 3 games.
  • Damian Lillard ranks 1st among rookies in scoring (18.2 ppg), assists (6.4 apg), 3-pointers made (71), free-throws made (103) and minutes (37.9 mpg).
  • J.J. Hickson ranks 3rd in the NBA with 19 double-doubles (Randolph 22, Lee 20, Howard 19), 5th in field goal percentage at 56.2% and 6th in rebounding with 10.8 rpg.
  • In his last 8 games vs. the Wolves, Wesley Matthews is averaging 21.5 ppg, on 51.7% shooting, with five games over 20 points and two 30+ games.

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