Wesley Matthews and Damian Lillard played the part of an All-NBA backcourt and the Trail Blazers took a challenge from Coach Terry Stotts to heart Friday night at the Rose Garden.
The result was a 103-95 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves that sent Portland into a seven-game road trip on a positive note.
Matthews (30 points) and Lillard (28) each scored season highs and the Blazers (6-6), rallying from a 13-point second-quarter deficit, held the Timberwolves (5-6) to .410 shooting .351 over the final three quarters.
It was an improved defensive performance for a Portland team that entered the game last in the NBA in opponents scoring (102.9) and field-goal percentage (.501).
At Fridays shootaround, Coach Terry Stotts showed the Blazers the opponents shooting percentage and scoring production during the minutes each has been in a game this season.
A lot of guys werent pleased with the numbers we saw, Lillard said. We came out tonight and focused on it.
Stotts was particularly perturbed with Portlands defense in a 114-87 loss at Phoenix on Wednesday, a game in which the Suns shot .597.
Weve been embarrassed, Matthews said. Teams shooting 50 percent on us. ... the thumping we took in Phoenix. (The Suns) are all right; theyve got some players. But we dont feel like we should ever lose like that to everybody.
Were all professionals. Weve played basketball for a long time. But it still takes calling out. Thats what Coach (Stotts) did, and everybody responded.
I saw an intensity in our guys face about how important (defense) was, Stotts said. Ive seen it in spots this season. The second half tonight, we sustained it for a long period of time.
Offense is important, too, and Matthews and Lillard provided it in superlative fashion.
Matthews and Lillard, they just couldnt miss, said Minnesota power forward Kevin Love, who had team highs in points (24) and rebounds (13) in his 36 minutes. Easy as that. Those kind of games happen.
Wes and Damian picked up the slack tonight, Aldridge said. They came out ready to go, played great and made shots.
Matthews was 12 for 17 from the field, including 5 for 6 from 3-point range, and also had four steals and three assists in his 40-minute performance.
I needed a game like this, said Matthews, whose career-high is 36 points. Havent been too many games where Ive able to really go like that. But I was really more happy with the defensive performance on my behalf and the teams behalf.
I wasnt surprised he was making shots, Lillard said. Every day in practice you see those shots Wes takes going in.
Before the game, Minnesota coach Rick Adelman called Lillard probably the best rookie in the league right now. The 6-3 point guard out of Weber State lived up to that billing, sinking 11 of 17 shots, including 4 of 8 3-pointers, while contributing eight assists with no turnovers in a Rembrandt-like 37 minutes.
The Blazers shot a season-best .538, in part due to Minnesotas porous defense.
We just didnt defend them well enough, Adelman said. They shot the heck out of the ball and (on offense) we didnt finish plays at the basket.
We needed to get the ball moving more, Lillard said. Sometimes the ball has been sticking and we havent been able to score that easily.
When people are making more shots, its a lot easier. Plus, it had to do with the way they played (defense). There was a lot of space out there and I was able to make plays... it was pretty easy.
Portland won despite a huge disadvantage in a couple of statistical categories rebounds (47-33, including 17-6 at the offensive end) and free throws (8 for 18 to Minnesotas 28 for 37). The Blazers made up the difference in 3-point accuracy (11 for 25 to the Wolves 3 for 18), providing an extra 24 points.
We dont win a lot of categories a lot of times, Stotts said. We beat Chicago and (the Bulls) outscored us by 20 in the paint.
Theres not a definitive way to win a game. How we play is important. Sometimes its not going to be defined by winning a boxscore. Its going to be by playing with a rhythm at the offensive end and with intensity and grit on the defensive end.
NOTES: Portland begins its road trip Sunday with a noon PST time at New Jersey. ... Portlands J.J. Hickson had his sixth double-double of the season with 14 points and 13 rebounds in 31 minutes. ... Aldridge picked up his fourth foul when a double foul was whistled with Love with 9:27 left in the third quarter. Stotts left Aldridge in the game, and 2 1/2 minutes later he picked up his fifth foul and had to sit until early in the fourth quarter. Stotts explanation: I just thought he deserved a chance to play a few more minutes. I rode it about a minute too long. It was good for the morale of the team to show some fight and keep him in there. ... Aldridge finished with 13 points and six rebounds before fouling out in 28 minutes. Does he have a personal thing going with Love, the Lake Oswego native? I dont think so, but everybody else might think so, Aldridge said.
Minnesotas Ricky Rubio, who missed the second half of last season following knee surgery, worked out hard before Fridays game with no problems. The Timberwolves are hopeful the second-year point guard will return to action in a few weeks. Hes doing good, Adelman said. Hes been able to go through all the (non-contact) drills. He has to see the doctor one more time, and maybe after this trip we can get him on the practice floor. Its just going to take him some time to get his conditioning and timing down. ... Portland has won 13 of its last 14 meetings with Minnesota at the Rose Garden.