Ailing Timberwolves are just what struggling Blazers needed
Win is Portland's second since Feb. 4
Originally published March 2, 2013 at 10:16 p.m., updated March 2, 2013 at 10:45 p.m.
PORTLAND — Terry Stotts stated the obvious about his Trail Blazers’ win on Saturday night. The team on the losing end of the 109-94 outcome has been plagued with injuries all season.
Still, as much hardship as the Minnesota Timberwolves have faced, the Blazers needed a bright moment to avoid their own suffering.
Feeble opponent or not, only the positive result mattered.
“I thought it was solid win for us,” Stotts said. “At this stage it’s about getting another win regardless of what’s happened before.”
On a night when Brandon Roy returned to the Rose Garden for the first time as a member of another franchise, the Blazers completed the four-game season sweep of his new team and improved to 27-31. The win stems a trend in the wrong direction that saw Portland lose seven of eight games.
“The next two (games) — this one and the one Monday before we go on the road,” Nicolas Batum said, “they (are) huge for us. We struggled the last couple games, but we needed this one tonight.”
While Damian Lillard carried the scoring load for a game-high 24 points, his backup and frequent backcourt mate Eric Maynor played as the helpful guard. In only his third game as a Blazer, Maynor recorded a career-high 12 assists and played 31 minutes and 10 seconds, his most time on the floor since March 22, 2010.
“I’ve been able to get comfortable with some of these guys and as time comes, it’s going to get even better,” Maynor said. “It feels good to be out there playing.”
Maynor missed 77 games last season, which includes the playoffs, after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament. The injury forced him to wear a brace up until three weeks ago, so if anyone understands Maynor’s plight to come back, it would be the walking wounded on the Timberwolves’ roster.
Grim injury reports and trips to the surgeon have interrupted what was once believed to be a promising Minnesota season. Prior to coming to Portland, the Wolves experienced another injury with center Nikola Pekovic (abdominal strain), who averages 15.9 points and 8.8 rebounds.
So without their starting frontline, the Wolves presented themselves as the sacrificial lamb the Blazers needed. But the question remained would they pounce or play down to the competition?
Not only had the Blazers lost recent games, but they did so against some of the worst teams in the league (Orlando, New Orleans, Phoenix).
“I think we’re immature at times by not locking in and taking advantage of our situation,” said J.J. Hickson, who finished with 18 points and 16 rebounds. “We’ve had times (when) we could’ve beaten a lot of easy teams. Not to say that teams with a bad record are (easily) beatable, but we’ve got to win those games to give ourselves a shot.”
It began early as the Blazers jumped to a 27-17 lead in the first quarter and did not relinquish their double-digit edge until late in the half. Even through Wesley Matthew had picked up three fouls, Portland stayed ahead by giving extended minutes to the Maynor-Lillard backcourt.
Although Maynor did not shoot particularly well — only 1 for 5 — he matched his season best of seven assists by the 8:29 mark of the second quarter and was well on his way to a career night.
“It’s reassuring,” Stotts said of Maynor. “Eric has come in and he has played a lot of big games. He has a lot of confidence and poise out there. I still like having scorers out there with him, but I think he controls the game pretty well on offense.”
Even with the backcourt blossoming and rookie reserves Meyers Leonard (12 points, eight rebounds) and Victor Claver (10 points) contributing, the Blazers did not exactly blow the Wolves away.
Minnesota pulled within 53-46 near the start of the third quarter but with Matthews on the bench with four fouls, Maynor played with the starters and helped expand the lead to 17.
Minnesota fell to 20-36, another loss contributed to the injury-riddled season.
“We’ve had a tough time with (the Blazers),” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “Tonight was just one of those things. Guys tried, but it just wasn’t there.”
When the Wolves entered the Rose Garden, four damaged players occupied the inactive list, but one still owned a piece of the Blazer fans’ hearts.
After the first timeout of the game, Roy’s image flashed on the overhead scoreboard and ignited a prompt and enthusiastic standing ovation.
For the first time since the end of the 2011 season, fans could appreciate Roy for his years in Portland in spite of the knee injury that ultimately stalled his career — the Blazers waived Roy later that year.
This season, Roy attempted a comeback with Minnesota but only played in five games before experiencing another setback.
“I didn’t have the same energy as if I was playing, but I still was excited as I got close to the arena,” Roy said before the game. “Just happy to be back pulling in here. I still wish I was able to play this game, but I’m still excited to be here and see the fans.”