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  • 20 Aug 2014

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Blazers beat down ailing Timberwolves

What, you think wins in the NBA come easy?

The Trail Blazers know better. That’s why nobody on the Portland side was discounting a 109-94 victory over the injury-ravaged and defense-less Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday night at the Rose Garden.

“We were talking about how they’re hurting, but we wanted to play our game and not worry about what they had going on in their locker room,” Portland’s J.J. Hickson said.

With Damian Lillard scoring 24 points, Hickson notching his usual high-end double-double and reserves Eric Maynor, Meyers Leonard and Victor Claver providing a sterling supporting cast, Portland (27-31) completed a four-game series sweep over the Timberwolves.

It was only the second win in the last 10 games for Portland, four games back of eighth-place Houston (32-28) in the West playoff picture with 24 games yet to play.

Minnesota (20-36) went without its entire starting frontcourt, with Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko sitting it out with injuries. That left Derrick Williams, Mickael Gelabale and Greg Stiemsma to fend with Hickson, Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum in the trenches.

Mike Tyson vs. Clifford “The Black Rhino” Etienne was as fair a fight.

With such as Chase Budinger, Malcolm Lee and Brandon Roy also missing, Minnesota coach Rick Adelman was left with nine able bodies.

“We’re just so thin because of all the injuries,” said Adelman, the former Blazer coach. “You go at it with the right attitude and keep busting your tail, eventually it’s going to pay off. But we need people back.

“(The Timberwolves) competed the whole game, but (the Blazers) were just bigger and stronger.”

It was a near wire-to-wire victory for Portland, which had run out to big leads in each of its first three matchups, only to see the Wolves storm back to make it a game.

That didn’t happen this time. Minnesota’s last lead was at 6-4. Portland used an 11-2 run early in the third quarter to forge a 64-48 advantage; the Wolves never got the margin to single digits the rest of the way.

“Tonight it started from (the first) jump ball,” said Hickson, who had 18 points and 16 rebounds for his 32nd double-double of the season. “We didn’t let up, except for a couple of possessions in the fourth quarter. Coach (Terry Stotts) called timeout, we regrouped and finished the job.”

Lillard was 9 for 18 from the field and had six rebounds, four assists and no turnovers in 39 minutes. The back story for the back-to-back-to-back-to-back NBA rookie of the month award-winner was the presence of his understudy, Maynor, in the backcourt with him for major minutes.

In his third game since coming over in a trade with Oklahoma City, Maynor contributed seven points and a career-high 12 assists in 31 minutes. What’s left of Minnesota’s lineup includes four point guards — Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved.

Maynor “and Damian have played well in practice the last two times,” Stotts said. Minnesota’s “lineup lends to playing those two guys together.

“We ran better when those two were in the game. The ball got up the court pretty quickly. I was pleased.”

So was Lillard, who got a kick out of playing as a pseudo-shooting guard for once.

“It’s fun to have somebody else who sees everything that’s going on on the floor,” Lillard said. “He sees what I see. He’s thinking what point guards think when they’re bringing it up the floor. He’s looking for guys in their spots.

“It makes it a lot easier when I’m not the guy the defense can set up their pick-and-roll defense on right away. A lot of times, I’m on the weak side and I’m catching the ball and it’s hard for (the opponent) to get in their coverage. That makes it a lot easier to score. He probably should have had 15, 16 assists. He did a really good job of making plays for us.”

Maynor, who was 3 for 7 from the field, is only 4 for 16 in his three games in a Blazer uniform. But he likes to pass, and his teammates mostly like to score.

“I just love a pass-first point guard coming off the bench,” Hickson said. “It’s a great addition for us. He knows his role, and with him, we can be a much better team.”

“I’m getting more comfortable and was able to get a lot of minutes tonight,” Maynor said. “Playing with Damian, he scores so good, being able to get him off the ball, he gets a free shot. With more practice time, it’ll be even better.

“We have J.J. and Meyers finishing, we have shooters around the court. I can pick and choose the guys I want to hit. We’ll all get more comfortable with each other as time comes.”

Leonard contributed 12 points and eight rebounds in his 21 minutes — “might have been his best all-around game at both ends of the floor,” Stotts said — making 6 of 7 shots from the field. Claver scored 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting.

“It was a solid win for us,” Stotts said. “Minnesota is plagued with injuries, and that makes a difference. But from our standpoint, we came out with good energy and good execution.”

Maynor knows a little about the postseason, having played with Oklahoma City the last three years. Can Portland get it together well enough to make the playoffs?

“Absolutely,” he said. “We just have to take one game at a time and worry about ourselves. We do that, who knows what can happen.”

NOTES — Portland’s next action is Monday night at home against Charlotte. ... Hickson and Leonard combined to shoot 13 for 15 from the field. Hickson, who was 7 for 8, has shot 50 percent or better in a franchise-record 21 straight games. ... Leonard was 6 for 7 from the field. His only miss came when he tried to dunk and missed, then hung on the rim as the ball bounced high in the air and through the hoop. The score was negated due to basket interference. .. Aldridge had 17 points and eight rebounds and moved past Sidney Wicks into ninth place on Portland’s career scoring list with 8,898 points. ... Maynor’s 12 assists are second-most by an NBA reserve this season, behind only San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili (15). Maynor also tied Lillard and Nicolas Batum for a Portland game high this season. ... Rubio flirted with his first career triple-double, finishing with 12 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. ... Portland’s Wesley Matthews had a quiet game, scoring nine points on 4-for-7 shooting. In the previous three games against the Wolves, Matthews shot .628 from the field and .667 from 3-point range and averaged 26 points. ... Portland shot much better than Minnesota — .487 to .391 from the field, including 7 for 20 from 3-point range to the Timberwolves’ 1 for 12. The Blazers also had a large advantage in rebounds (55-47), points in the paint (56-40) and assists (32-19).