Kevin Love outplays LaMarcus Aldridge to lead Wolves past Blazers
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kevin Love worked all summer long to put an injury plagued season behind him and reclaim his spot as the best power forward in the league.
LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers is one of the players standing in his way.
In their first head-to-head matchup of the season, Love pounced on a road-weary Aldridge and grabbed Round 1.
Love had 29 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists to outperform Aldridge in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 120-109 victory over Portland on Wednesday night.
“Awesome,” Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio said. “There’s no words to describe. He’s doing a great job leading this team in scoring, rebounding, even assisting. He’s taking my job.”
Nikola Pekovic had 30 points and nine rebounds and Kevin Martin scored 22 for the Timberwolves, who led by 32 in the second quarter and held off a charge in the second half from the Blazers.
Damian Lillard had 36 points, six assists and six rebounds and Aldridge had 15 points and 14 boards for the weary Trail Blazers, who lost for the first time in six games. It was just their fifth loss of the season in 27 games and came at the end of a four-game road trip.
The Timberwolves outscored Portland 72-34 in the paint and shot 49.5 percent from the field.
Aldridge, one of the early leaders in the MVP race thanks to Portland’s remarkable start, made just 7 of 22 shots.
“Just one of those nights,” Aldridge said. “I couldn’t throw a rock in a lake if I tried to, even if I was standing in the water.”
The Blazers have been the most surprising team of this young season, and they stormed into Target Center fresh off two straight heart-pounding victories on last-second shots by Lillard that gave them the best record in the NBA. But playing their fourth road game in five nights, their legs were heavy, their shots where shaky and the Wolves pounced.
Love owned the first 24 minutes. He had a double-double before the game was 13 minutes old and went into halftime with 17 points, 11 boards and eight assists. The Wolves rode a staggering 42-12 run through the second quarter to take a 62-30 lead five minutes before the break.
He started fast breaks, he hit deep 3s and he went to the floor for loose balls, setting the tone and building a cushion that they sorely needed as the game wore on. But he still ended up one assist shy of his first career triple-double.
“I did think I was looking at it right in the face tonight, but it didn’t happen for me,” Love said. “Guys kept saying just get one more. I just said let’s get a … win. How about that? I’m way more happy with that more than anything.”
Portland coach Terry Stotts said he considered pulling the plug after the third and resting his starters. But these are the Blazers, who shoot 3s without conscience and play with a swagger generated by their cold-blooded point guard. And they’re never out of a game.
Lillard scored 17 points in the third, and his step-back 3 brought Portland to 86-75 with 2:04 to play in the quarter.
“Two things, one is you don’t know when to pull a plug on a game like this, and two with our team, with our ability to shoot, you just don’t know,” Stotts said.
Martin, who missed Monday night’s game in Boston with a sore left knee, responded with a 3 and J.J. Barea hit two big 3s in the closing seconds of the quarter to push the lead back to 22.
Lillard hit two 3s and Nicolas Batum, who scored 20 points, scored on a putback and a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to five with 46 seconds to play, but the Wolves closed it out at the free-throw line.
“You know last year, that probably would’ve been a game where we just said all right we’re going to give it a shot in the third quarter and in the fourth quarter we probably would’ve ended up laying down,” Lillard said. “But we fought back, and I think with a minute and a half it was a game.”
NOTES: The Wolves announced that F Chase Budinger has been cleared for full-contact practice. Budinger has yet to play this year after having surgery to remove part of the meniscus in his left knee. … It was the third career 30-point game for Pekovic. … Lillard went 7 for 14 from 3, while the rest of the team went 7 for 26.