Aldridge, Blazers ease past T'wolves
PORTAND — Everyone it seems was talking about the showdown between Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge and Minnesota's Kevin Love.
Except Aldridge and Love.
"All he kept saying was 'All I care about is the win,'" teammate Mo Williams said of Aldridge.
"Much ado about nothing," Love countered.
In the end, Aldridge had 21 points to help the Trail Blazers down the Timberwolves 115-104 on Saturday night. Love, coming off a back-to-back, had 15 points and 13 rebounds.
"We didn't both particularly have a great game," Love said. "Other people stepped up on both of our teams — but he came away with the win."
It was the Trail Blazers' 33rd win — matching their total from all of last season.
Aldridge hit a long jumper and drew a foul to give the Blazers a 100-88 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Damian Lillard's 3-pointer pushed the lead to 105-88 and Minnesota could never catch up. Aldridge is 12-3 in head-to-heads with Love.
Kevin Martin led the Timberwolves with 30 points, while Nikola Pekovic had 23 points and 11 rebounds.
Love, named Thursday as an Western Conference All-Star starter, went into the game against the Blazers averaging 25 points and 13 rebounds, but some Portland fans and players felt Aldridge — averaging 24.7 points and 11.6 rebounds — deserved the starting nod because of his role in the team's success this season.
Aldridge scored a career-high 44 points and had 13 rebounds following the All-Star announcement in Portland's come-from-behind victory at home over Denver on Thursday night. Afterward he said he "definitely" thought he should have made it.
The 6-foot-11 seventh-year veteran can still make the team as a reserve — as he has for the past two seasons — when the coaches' selections are announced later this month.
Love is a first-time All-Star starter after leap-frogging Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard in the final fan balloting.
"I think it's a little sweeter this way because I really didn't expect it," he said following the announcement.
Earlier this season, Love had 29 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists in Minnesota's 120-109 home victory over the Blazers on Dec. 18.
Love said his knees felt the previous night's 121-120 victory at Golden State all through the game against Portland.
"Last night I took a pretty bad hit from Harrison Barnes and every time I sat down during the game my knees stiffened up a little."
Aldridge, who had his 11th straight game with 20 or more points, also cited some fatigue.
"I thought both guys competed," he said of the matchup. "I was a little tired and I thought he was tired on the second night of a back-to-back."
While fans were expecting Aldridge to come out and make a statement, teammate Nicolas Batum quickly tallied 11 points and five rebounds in the first quarter. Love had 10 points to lead Minnesota, which finished the first leading 29-27.
The Blazers then took off on a 16-4 run, capped by Thomas Robinson's fast-break dunk, to take a 43-33 lead. Williams, who finished with 16 points off the bench, had 10 points in the spurt.
Portland led 65-57 at the break.
Three straight dunks from Pekovic — off feeds from Ricky Rubio — tied the game at 73 midway through the third quarter. But the Timberwolves didn't pull ahead until Martin's 3-pointer made it 79-78 with 3:50 left in the period. The Blazers answered by finishing out the quarter on an 8-2 run to lead 87-81.
Portland pushed its lead to 95-86 on consecutive jumpers from rookie C.J. McCollum.
The Blazers outscored the Timberwolves 60-46 in the paint, and Portland's bench outscored Minnesota's 34-15.
"The second half we just ran out of gas," Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said. "I noticed it. We made runs at them, we caught them in the third quarter, but they kept having one more run."