Wolves capitalize on chances inside in record fashion against Portland
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MINNEAPOLIS -- As the Minnesota Timberwolves romped through the first half Wednesday night, it was easy to feel slightly taken aback.
Up against the Portland Trail Blazers, one of the Western Conference's top teams, the Wolves knew it would take one of their best efforts of the season Wednesday night to subdue the sting from an ugly loss at Boston two days prior and get back to the .500 threshold.
Well the Wolves got it, primarily for the first 24 minutes, as they bounded to a 32-point second quarter lead on the road-weary Trail Blazers before plateauing at 26 by halftime.
Portland, its always dangerous offense driven by the near-uncanny shooting ability of second-year guard Damian Lillard's 36 points (26 of which came in the second half), put the Wolves on red alert when the lead was cut to five points in the final minute.
However, put any quibbles about the Wolves' periods of second half ineffectiveness aside for a moment. Simply put, they did enough to knock down a team that had lost only two of its last 22 games with an impressive 120-109 defeat.
It's easy to point out that Portland was playing in its fourth game in five days, all away from the comforts of home. But the Wolves have been caught in similar grinds this season and have fallen flat. On Wednesday, they were able to exploit the advantage.
"We attacked them from the beginning," guard Ricky Rubio said. "I think the first quarter was amazing ... We take a good lead in the first half that gave us the opportunity to win the game, because they made a couple runs that if we weren't winning by that much in the first half we'd have been in trouble."
The Wolves' success was centered on something they have struggled to do consistently: capitalize on shots inside.
They did so on Wednesday, and in record fashion. The Wolves set a franchise record with 72 of their 120 points coming in the paint. Minnesota set the pace and didn't relent until Portland started to wake up in the second half.
"Seventy-two points in the paint is a lot," coach Rick Adelman said dryly. "We were very active. That's why it's hard to duplicate the way we played in the first half. Fortunately, we made some plays to open it up at the end of the third quarter ... That's a very good team. They can score in bunches."
Much was made pregame about the match-up between Kevin Love and Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge, arguments being presented as to why one had the advantage over the other in the debate about who is currently the best power forward in the NBA.
Even Adelman and Portland coach Terry Stotts got in on the discussion, both siding with their respective player as the NBA's premier power forward.
Regardless of what side you stand on, it was easy to see that at least for one night Love held the higher ground.
A glance at the halftime stat sheet Wednesday was enough to elicit a brief shake of the head in astonishment.
In two quarters, Love was already two assists away from his first career triple-double (17 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists). He wouldn't get there, cooling down in the second to finish with a 29-15-9 stat line, but one explosive half was ultimately all the Wolves needed from him.
Meanwhile, Aldridge finished with his second lowest scoring total of the season (15 points, although finding other ways to chip in, adding a team-high 14 rebounds.
Love acknowledges the praise his eye-popping stats have garnered this season, but he opts to stay away from Love-Aldridge debate.
"LaMarcus and myself have both been very consistent this season," Love said. "His team has obviously had more success, but ours is getting a lot better ... His coach is supposed to say that and my coach is supposed to say that as well. He's a tremendous player, and like I said, I have to tip my hat to him, because he's really worked on his game."
On the other hand, Rubio wasn't as restrained postgame when trying to quantify the impact Love has had through the first quarter of the season.
"There's no words to describe it," Rubio said. "He's doing a great job leading this team in scoring, rebounding, even assisting. He's taking my job too. He's been smart, knows when to attack, when to pass the ball. It's been unbelievable."
For one night, Love and the Wolves showed they could hang with the best in the Western Conference. The only way they will start earning more respect as a potential playoff teams is if they add a needed edge of consistency. That opportunity comes almost right away, with a weekend road trip to Los Angeles to face the Lakers and Clippers on tap.