Updated: April 1st, 2012 11:30pm
Timberwolves' playoff hopes continue to fade with loss in Portland

Timberwolves' playoff hopes continue to fade with loss in Portland

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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The Minnesota Timberwolves' hopes of making the postseason for the first time since 2004 continue to slip away.

The Portland Trail Blazers became the latest team to deliver a blow to the Wolves' playoff chances, cruising to a 119-106 victory on Sunday at the Rose Garden.

LaMarcus Aldridge, who came back after missing a game because of a sore left elbow, had 26 points and Nicolas Batum added 24 as the Blazers avoided being swept in a season series by the Wolves for only the second time.

Kevin Love led the worn-down Timberwolves (25-29) with 26 points but came up short in his attempt to get another double-double. He finished with nine rebounds. Love made seven of 16 shots, but was only one of six on three-pointers.

The skinny

Coming off a 100-79 blowout loss to Boston on Friday at Target Center, the Wolves were looking to rebound.

They had defeated Portland twice in early March, but those victories came with the Wolves having a very different look.

Sunday, coach Rick Adelman's team was missing guards Ricky Rubio and J.J. Barea, center Nikola Pekovic and forward Michael Beasley.

Love, who grew up just south of the Rose Garden in Lake Oswego, had 42 points in the Wolves' 122-110 victory over the Blazers on March 3. That was the second-most points scored by a Portland opponent at the Rose Garden, two short of the single-game total put up by LeBron James.

Of course, points were easier to come by when the Blazers also had to defend against Pekovic, Rubio, Barea and Beasley.

"We have four guys missing," Adelman said in his postgame press conference when asked what Portland had done differently against Love this time. "Four of our top six (scorers) are missing. That puts a little pressure on (Love). ...

"He's been carrying us for a long time and we have to have other people step up. It's tough on anybody if you go out there and don't have other people scoring. ... (We're) a totally different team right now. I still think there are things we could do a heck of a lot better than we're doing right now."

Love helped the Wolves remain in the postseason race in March, averaging an NBA best 30.7 points with 13.9 rebounds.

Love's frustration was apparent late in the second quarter when he and Aldridge exchanged pleasantries following a foul by the Wolves' All-Star. Aldridge pushed Love before the two were quickly separated.

The Wolves did get productive efforts from guard Luke Ridnour (21 points, six assists) and forward Derrick Williams (21 points, six rebounds) but still lost for the fifth time in seven games and the eighth time in the past 11 games.

They dropped 3.5 games behind Houston in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Blazers (25-28) moved one-half game in front of the Wolves.

"If we don't win games, we're not going to do it," Adelman said of making the postseason. "It's down to 12 (regular-season games remaining) and we play another game on the road tomorrow. ... I know it's difficult with the core of our main guys not playing, but we still have to find a way."

The score was tied 27-27 at the end of the first quarter, but when Love rested early in the second, Portland took a 37-31 lead on Jamal Crawford's pull-up jumper. Portland stretched the lead to 49-42 on another Crawford jumper and the Blazers led 57-50 at halftime.

Turning point

The Trail Blazers went on a 13-4 run late in the third quarter to go up 81-68. The Wolves attempted to rally, pulling within 88-80 after three quarters, as Ridnour scored the last six points of the quarter for his team.

However, that wouldn't be enough as the Blazers outscored the Wolves 31-26 in the fourth. J.J. Hickson had 14 of his 15 points in the final quarter.

Numbers game

16: Consecutive losses for the Wolves against Portland entering this season.

4-0: Wolves' record against the Trail Blazers in 2004-05 when they swept the season series.

15-12: Wolves' advantage in second-chance points on Sunday.

13-8: Trail Blazers' advantage on the offensive glass.

Injury report

Barea (bruised right quadriceps) and Beasley (sprained big toe on his left foot) are not on this two-game trip. Sunday's game marked the fifth in a row in which Barea did not play and the third in a row that Beasley has sat out.

Pekovic tested his sore right ankle in pregame warm-ups but it was decided he could not go. He is bothered by bone spurs in the ankle and appears unlikely to play Monday night at Sacramento.

Pekovic is going to need surgery to have the bone spurs removed after the season.

Up next

The Wolves will conclude their trip at 9 p.m. Monday in Sacramento. The Wolves then return home to face Golden State on Wednesday.

The Wolves are 2-1 against the Kings this season, having beaten them at Target Center twice. The Kings cruised to a 115-99 win over the Wolves in the last meeting on March 18 in Sacramento.

The Kings lost 111-99 to New Jersey on Saturday and are near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Center DeMarcus Cousins had only 14 points and nine rebounds in the loss, but he was coming off a big week. Cousins, whom the Wolves passed on in the 2010 draft when they decided to take Wes Johnson, averaged 28.3 points and 15.3 rebounds in a four-game stretch.

The Associated Press contributed 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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