Blazers find some pride in their ‘D’

Shutting down T-wolves good way to launch road trip




Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Love (42) looks to shoot against Portland Trail Blazers' J.J. Hickson, back, and LaMarcus Aldridge, left, during the first half Friday.

PORTLAND — It started at shootaround.

In the morning hours before the Trail Blazers would walk onto the Rose Garden court, players gathered at the practice facility and stood ashamed.

The team defense wasn’t very good. In fact — judging by some defensive statistics — the Blazer defense was worst in the league.

Coach Terry Stotts called them out. He showed the numbers, and though players confessed to feeling humiliated in the morning, by Friday evening, they had grown inspired.

The Blazers shut down the Minnesota Timberwolves, 103-95, before turning the lights off in the locker room for a while.

After a rather sobering loss in Phoenix on Wednesday, when the team allowed the Suns to shoot with near 60-percent accuracy — continuing a trend that has plummeted the Blazers’ defensive field-goal percentage to last in the NBA — the pride had returned.

“We got embarrassed, really,” said Wesley Matthews who scored a season-high 30 points on 12-of-17 shooting (5-6 on 3-pointers). “We’ve been embarrassed.”

“Teams shooting 50 percent on us. The thumping that we took in Phoenix … and coach brought it to our attention at shootaround today where we stand in the NBA as far as defensive field-goal percentage and shots at the rim — and it was ugly.”

If the coach’s call out wasn’t enough, the Blazers needed one more punch in the gut by nightfall. In the first quarter, the Wolves scored 33 points with center Nikola Pekovic dictating the paint for 10 points. Another “ugly” defensive performance seemed likely but the Blazers turned the effort around and held the Wolves to just 41 percent the rest of the way.

“Just watching (the Phoenix game) was embarrassing,” said center J.J. Hickson who sat out Wednesday with a sore shoulder. “I know it was embarrassing for the guys who suited up. I think the whole team had the mindset (on Friday) to lock in mentally on defense.”

And, simply, toughen up.

“Our activity level, our alertness, our physical nature in the paint,” Stotts said, responding to what he liked about the defensive effort. “I thought I saw just an intensity in the guys’ faces about how important it was.”

The note on the dry erase board after the game emphasized how critical a win on Friday night would be for the Blazers (6-6).

10:15 plane. Practice when we land.

The team plays its next seven games on the road, beginning in Brooklyn on Sunday.

So while the Blazers survived with LaMarcus Aldridge in foul trouble — he fouled out for the first time since March 3 — and watched as Damian Lillard set a new personal best with 28 points, winning without your All-Star and depending on career nights from your rookie will be harder to do on the road.

“This is a good taste to go into Brooklyn with a tough environment,” Matthews said, “holding a team to 41 percent, that’s got to be the best all year.”



MINNESOTA (95) — Kirilenko 3-9 3-4 10, Love 6-15 12-16 24, Pekovic 4-13 10-12 18, Ridnour 6-10 1-3 14, Lee 3-4 0-0 7, Cunningham 2-4 0-0 4, Shved 1-5 2-2 4, Barea 2-7 0-0 4, Amundson 0-3 0-0 0, Howard 5-8 0-0 10. Totals 32-78 28-37 95.

PORTLAND (103) — Batum 3-10 2-2 9, Aldridge 6-13 1-3 13, Hickson 6-10 2-4 14, Lillard 11-17 2-4 28, Matthews 12-17 1-2 30, Leonard 1-3 0-0 2, Jeffries 1-1 0-3 2, Babbitt 0-1 0-0 0, Barton 0-2 0-0 0, Price 1-3 0-0 3, Pavlovic 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 42-78 8-18 103.

Minnesota 33 22 23 17– 95

Portland 28 22 31 22–103

3-Point Goals–Minnesota 3-18 (Kirilenko 1-2, Lee 1-2, Ridnour 1-4, Howard 0-1, Love 0-2, Shved 0-3, Barea 0-4), Portland 11-25 (Matthews 5-6, Lillard 4-8, Price 1-1, Batum 1-7, Babbitt 0-1, Barton 0-2). Fouled Out–Aldridge. Rebounds–Minnesota 59 (Love 13), Portland 42 (Hickson 13). Assists–Minnesota 15 (Kirilenko 5), Portland 24 (Lillard 8). Total Fouls–Minnesota 21, Portland 26. Technicals–Love, Aldridge, Jeffries, Leonard. A–20,555 (19,980).