The Wolves had a strong first quarter in this one, taking a four point lead behind a hot start from former Blazer Mo Williams, but once the Blazers found their footing in the 2nd period while the Wolves offense went cold, the game was effectively over.
The Blazers took an eight point lead into the break, and while the Wolves managed to keep the game fairly close throughout, they never looked in danger of winning. In truth, the Blazers appeared to be conserving their energy; rousing themselves when the Wolves got close, but otherwise cruising through a Sunday night game against a much weaker opponent.
The Wolves cut the lead to six late in the third quarter on a put back by Shabazz Muhammad, about whom more later, but the Blazers promptly went on an 8-0 run to end the quarter, with LaMarcus Aldridge free throws and a three point play sandwiching a Wesley Matthews three pointer to push the lead back out.
Similarly in the fourth quarter, the Wolves got as close as seven points with time remaining on a Thad Young drive and finish, but the Blazers promptly shifted into gear, with Damian Lillard scoring 13 of his 17 in the period to close things out.
This was an inside vs. outside game, with the Wolves dominating the paint scoring 60-34, but getting outscored by 30 beyond the arc. And it wasn't even a great shooting night for the Blazers, who went 12-33 from three. Wes Matthews was his usual Wolves killing self, making 6-10, but Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum combined to shoot only 2-15 from distance. Still, when compared with the Wolves 2-9 as a team, the difference was stark. The Blazers search for open threes off pick and rolls, off double teams, off ball movement, and the Wolves weren't nearly good enough or disciplined enough to limit their looks.
As expected, the Wolves were unable to slow LaMarcus Aldridge down, as he finished with 26 and 15, making an array of open jumpers that the Wolves could do nothing about. He and Matthews carried the offense until the fourth quarter, when Damian Lillard came alive after a very slow start. It was enough, as the Wolves simply don't have the fire power to compete with a team like Portland.
Zach LaVine, two nights after his big game in L.A., was a non-factor tonight, failing to score and turning it over twice in 11 minutes. To Flip's credit, he didn't let LaVine play more than necessary against a player like Lillard who he couldn't control. Andrew Wiggins was limited to 18 minutes due to illness. He scored seven points, but looked lethargic. He really didn't have it.
For the Wolves, the night belonged to Shabazz Muhammad, who had a career high 28 on 12-17 from the field. He was a real force, hitting the offensive glass, posting up, cutting to the basket. Muhammad was a huge part of the Wolves paint scoring dominance, as nearly everything he did was inside. He was terrific at the offensive end tonight, torching whoever the Blazers put on him with his strength and touch in the post. The one thing I would really like to see him do is be as aggressive on the defensive glass as he is on the offensive glass. The Blazers grabbed 15 offensive rebounds tonight to the Wolves 11, and part of that has to do with the Wolves wing guys--particularly Wiggins, Brewer, and Muhammad not really competing on the defensive boards.
Still, that's a nitpick. It was a monster night for Muhammad, who continues to push for more playing time. He is now shooting over 50% from the field for the season, and is getting to the line with frequency. It would help if he shot his free throws better, but he's been an active and aggressive force in the paint for the Wolves offense. It's certainly more fun than watching Anthony Bennett launch 22 footers whenever he touches the ball.
The Wolves are in L.A. to face the Clippers tomorrow night, which is going to be especially tough given that Gorgui Dieng, Thad Young, and Mo Williams all played 37+ minutes tonight. Still, the Wolves competed, and forced the Blazers to play this one out to the end. Hopefully they can do the same tomorrow.
This game started a stretch of games for the Wolves that goes:
Ouch. Other than the Sixers, a game which scares the hell out of me, it's hard to see a win in there.