LaMarcus Aldridge had 25 points and 13 rebounds to help the Portland Trail Blazers avoid a late collapse and hang on to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 100-98 on Monday night.
Wes Matthews scored 22 points and Damon Lillard added 21 points for the Blazers, but they each had five of the team's season-high 28 turnovers. The Blazers never trailed in the game, but the Wolves had a chance to tie or win in the end. Ricky Rubio swung the ball to Dante Cunningham, whose 19-footer fell short.
Rubio had 10 of his career-high-tying 14 assists in the fourth quarter and finished with a season-high 15 points in a season-high 34 minutes. Cunningham scored a career-high 23 points on 11 for 17 shooting, and J.J. Barea added 17 points.
This wasn't the best way for the Blazers to start a six-game road trip, but a win is a win. Matthews has 78 points in three games against the Wolves this season. Nicolas Batum, his sore right wrist clearly still bothering him, finished with four points and a team-high seven turnovers. He has only 39 points in his last five games, less than half of his season average of nearly 16 points per game.
The Blazers pulled away at the end of the third quarter and coasted through the final period until the Wolves finally started to capitalize on all those giveaways. Minnesota used a 16-4 run to pull within 95-90 on a layup by Barea with 2:08 left.
Lillard answered with a jumper, but Rubio hit two free throws and Lillard threw a bad pass that slipped out of bounds on the next possession. Nikola Pekovic's layup cut the lead to three points, Lillard lost the ball near midcourt and Barea finished a fast break with layup to make it 97-96 with 36.9 seconds left.
Aldridge calmly swished a 21-footer, and Cunningham answered with a dunk on the other end. Luke Babbitt missed one of two free throws, but after Rubio's fade-away missed badly, Aldridge went to the line and clanked both shots with 6.7 seconds left, setting up the final try for the Wolves.
Matthews hurt his right ankle on Friday at Utah and was still too sore to play in the rematch against the Jazz on Saturday, but even if he wasn't fully healed by Monday that didn't matter against Minnesota's undersized perimeter defense. The native of not-too-far-away Madison, Wis., made four of his seven 3-point attempts in the first half.
Right after one of them, Aldridge backed down Mickael Gelable in the post with a couple of dribbles and a quick pivot toward the rim for an easy bank shot for an 11-point Blazers advantage. Minutes later, they took their biggest lead of the first 33 minutes, 45-32, on a 15-footer by their 6-foot-11 All-Star. He made seven of his 10 shots before halftime, six of them mid-range jumpers or longer.
The Blazers let the Wolves hang around with some sloppy ball-handling, careless passing and another light night by the bench. Portland's reserves were outscored 57-20 by Minnesota's, with Cunningham following up a 9-for-9, 18-point performance in Saturday's win over New Orleans.
Rubio did his best to keep the Wolves competitive, showing more of a willingness to shoot early in the possession and be the fulcrum of the offense. This was only the second time in 20 games all season he's reached double-digit points. No longer on a minutes limit, Rubio is averaging 11.2 points and shooting 46.3 percent in his last five games.
After Gelabale missed a dunk and Derrick Williams bricked the follow-up bank shot a few feet from the rim, Rubio pulled-up for a 19-footer that cut the lead to 55-49 midway through the third quarter.
Andrei Kirilenko strained his right quadriceps and left for the locker room late in the second quarter. He had two points in 14 minutes for the Wolves but did not return, yet another injury — whether major or mild — to a key part of what was positioned to be a playoff team this spring for the first time in nine years.
The Wolves, who lost for the 12th time in their last 14 games, fell six games behind eighth-place Houston in the unforgiving Western Conference. The Blazers, in ninth, are a half-game behind the Rockets. They've won five of their last seven games, following a six-game losing streak.
NOTES: Matthews passed Rasheed Wallace and Rudy Fernandez to take eighth place on Portland's all-time list with 374 made 3-pointers. Timberwolves assistant coach Terry Porter is the leader with 773. ... Cunningham's streak of 10 straight field goals made ended in the second quarter. Kevin Garnett and Felton Spencer share the team record with 13. ... The Blazers have won 20 of their last 22 games against the Wolves.
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