Blazers hit stride, and lots of shots
CJ McCollum had that glint in his eyes and, as he put it, "a little bounce" in his step.
When McCollum hits his offensive stride, the other guys are often in trouble.
That was the case Saturday night at Moda Center, when the Trail Blazers shooting guard buried Minnesota in an avalanche of offense.
McCollum bombed in 32 points on only 13 shots in Portland's 112-100 win, which was more one-sided than the final count indicated.
The Blazers (34-38) led by 24 points inside eight minutes remaining. Garbage time was kind to the Timberwolves (28-44), whose season has faded away in the midst of a five-game losing streak.
Portland, meanwhile, is flourishing in a bid to overtake Denver (35-37) in the battle for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Blazers, who have won 10 of their last 13 outings, shot a sizzling .625 from the field against the overmatched Wolves, including 11 for 22 (.500) from 3-point range. It was not only a season-best shooting performance, it was the best by a Portland team in 14 years — since the Blazers shot .641 against Toronto in March 2003.
"We executed with good pace," Lillard said. "We sprinted into screens. We came in knowing their bigs would stay back (on pick-and-rolls) and we would have open jumpers. Those are high-percentage shots."
McCollum had his best shooting game of the season, knocking down 11 of 13 field-goal attempts, including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc, and 4 of 4 from the foul line in his 29 minutes.
"I told CJ they robbed him of another 40-point game tonight," said backcourt mate Damian Lillard, who also played 29 minutes. "But it was good to get that rest."
Lillard was on the mark, too, sinking 8 of 13 shots overall, and 3 of 6 on 3-pointers, to finish with 21 points, eight assists and six rebounds. He didn't play in the fourth quarter.
"Coach (Stotts) told me if (the Wolves) got it to 13, he'd have to put us back in," said Lillard.
Minnesota didn't do that until the closing seconds.
Twelve Blazers scored. The only one who didn't shoot at least 50 percent from the field was Meyers Leonard, who was 1 for 4 — all from 3-point distance.
The best marksman, though, was McCollum.
"I got some good looks early," he said. "I just felt good tonight. I had a little bounce in my step. Guys did a good job setting screens and getting me open. I tried to be aggressive and efficient."
McCollum, Stotts said, "was very impressive. He really had it going. He scored in a variety of ways — getting to the rim, on jump shots. His handle was exceptional. He had an outstanding game."
"When you have two guards like (Lillard and McCollum) … they really play well together," Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. "They move the ball, but it's the shooting that puts so much pressure on you. It doesn't take them much to get going. If you make a body-position mistake, they're going to make you pay for it. It's a very dynamic team offensively."
Thibodeau likes the addition of center Jusuf Nurkic, who had 14 points and nine rebounds in 23 minutes.
"Nurkic was a good pick-up for them," Thibodeau said. "He does a lot of subtle things that help a team — his offensive rebounding, his screening, his ability to make plays and pass. And he has touch. There are a lot of good things he does."
Portland is in a good offensive rhythm as the regular season winds down. Over the last 13 games, the Blazers have shot at least 49 percent nine times.
"It starts with Damian," Stotts said. "He has been outstanding during this stretch. But we've had a lot of good contributions up and down the line. It seems like there's always somebody able to contribute."
NOTES: Portland's next action is Sunday night at Staples Center against the Los Angeles Lakers. "It's dangerous when you're playing teams that aren't in the (playoff) hunt anymore," Lillard said. "They're just playing free and having fun. They know these are their last few games — especially the young teams. They're excited to play. They just want to hoop. We have to go in there and understand what this means for us, and get it done." … The Blazers shot .661 from the field through three quarters Saturday night. At one point midway through the final period, they were shooting .672 (43 for 64). … Nurkic has averaged only 29 minutes per game. "I don't want to extend him," Stotts said. "I think he's better in seven-, eight-minute spurts. He is playing more minutes than he has ever played. Being able to keep him fresh is important. he's playing more minutes than he's ever played." … McCollum scored 43 points in the Blazers' 105-99 win at Minnesota on Jan. 1. "Over the course of my career, I play well against the teams that didn't draft me," he said.
The team in 10th place in the West, Dallas, has fallen to 31-41, three games behind Portland. … The Blazers and Timberwolves play each other three times over the next 12 days. The teams meet again on April 3 in Minneapolis and on April 6 in Portland. Said Stotts: "There will be a high degree of familiarity between the teams, but it's not going to be like a playoff series. In the playoffs, you focus in on one team. We will have games in between. But it's unique. I don't know if we've ever played a team three times in 12 days" in the regular season. …Lillard has scored at least 20 points in 11 consecutive games, the second-longest streak of his career. … McCollum has topped the 30-point barrier 14 times this season. … Minnesota was led by forward Andrew Wiggins with 20 points. The Wolves were playing the second of back-to-back games after falling 120-109 in overtime against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center Friday night.