Trail Blazers 110, Timberwolves 91
Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan has tinkered all season to try and find the right combination of players to overcome injuries and adversity. Nicolas Batum has thrown himself into that mix.
Batum scored a career-high 31 points, LaMarcus Aldridge added 21 and the Trail Blazers cruised to another easy victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, 110-91 on Saturday night.
``If he shoots the ball like that he's going to be tough to keep off the floor,'' McMillan said. ``His shot has certainly improved this year and he's taking it with confidence. He's going to get that opportunity with teams double-teaming and leaving him open.''
The Blazers have won 12 straight over the Wolves, including four victories this season by a combined 93 points.
Batum hit a career-high five 3-pointers and added a season-high seven assists and seven rebounds in his best game since returning from a torn labrum on Jan. 25. Batum had never scored more than 20 points in his career.
The French-born forward who wears No. 88 couldn't stop grinning as reporters asked him to put his career night into words after the game.
``In that third quarter. Every time I got the ball I just shot and it went in. It felt real good,'' Batum said.
Al Jefferson led Minnesota with 19 points, his highest total since scoring 18 six games ago against Washington.
Portland closed the first half on a 16-4 run to grab a 47-33 lead. The Blazers led by 30 in the third quarter.
Portland is allowing the fewest points of any team in the Western Conference and flexed its defensive muscle in the second quarter by holding the Wolves to 10 points in the quarter and 33 in the half, both season lows.
Rudy Fernandez added 18 points the Blazers.
``Al got us off to a great start. Defensive-wise, we were adhering to our game plan, doing things we wanted to do,'' Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said. ``But the last five minutes of the second quarter, they just got on this little roll and we couldn't find ways to stop them. Then they came out in the third quarter and just punched the game away for us.''
With Batum on fire, the Blazers didn't even need much from leading scorer Brandon Roy. Roy was held to seven points after scoring 20-plus in his last four games.
Roy said that Batum played a great all-around game along with his hot shooting.
``He's scored points but I've never seen him that aggressive,'' Roy said. ``He was playing. He had some assists, he had some leak outs, some jumpers. He wasn't just shooting 3-pointers.''
Batum didn't play in the first three Wolves-Blazers games this season. His presence made the matchup even more lopsided.
``When they have weapons like Roy and Andre Miller who can just find guys at crucial times where they can make plays, he just fits in well with them,'' Minnesota forward Ryan Gomes said. ``You worry about Roy and you worry about Aldridge and (Batum) finds a way to slash and drive and find a way to get to open areas to make shots.''
There weren't many bright spots for the Wolves, but the play of Darko Milicic continues to be a positive. Milicic blocked three shots for the third time in five games since coming to the Wolves in a trade from New York.
Ramon Sessions scored 13 points for Minnesota, and Corey Brewer and Kevin Love each had 10. Jefferson also had 11 rebounds for his 28th double-double.
Minnesota has lost nine of its last 10 since winning four straight and doesn't face a team with a losing record until mid-March.
Rambis was asked why his team not only struggles against Portland, but seems to never have much of a chance.
``Their length,'' he said. ``Aldridge is a tough matchup for us. Roy's a very talented ball player, an All-Star player. Miller is just an incredibly savvy point guard with what he's able to do out there on the floor. You throw in their shooters who have size and are able to see over things. They understand where they are as a ball club.''
Despite an impressive 35-27 record, the Blazers are stuck at No. 8 in the West. Portland has had to overcome injuries to Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla and has used 14 different starting lineups this season.
They rebounded from an overtime loss to Chicago on Friday night and are an NBA-best 12-3 on the second night of back-to-back games, a mark that may pay big dividends as the season winds down.
``It seemed like we were all dead tired tonight but somehow we came out and played with a little bit more focus,'' Roy said.
NOTES: Brewer hit two 3-pointers to extend his franchise-best 3-point streak to 25 games. ... Jefferson has attempted only 50 free throws in his last 24 games. He was 1 for 5 against Portland. ... Portland's Marcus Camby played 25 minutes in his second game back after missing one game with a sprained ankle. He also received a technical foul in the third quarter.