Aldridge-Love turns out to be a secondary story in Portland's 115-104 victory

by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Trail Blazers center Robin Lopez (right) extends for a block against Minnesota Timberwolves post Nikola Pekovic during Saturday night's 115-104 victory by Portland at Moda Center.All the pre-game commotion was about the individual matchup between perhaps the game's two premier power forwards -- Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge and Minnesota's Kevin Love.

Their duel was compelling, but not the main story line in the Trail Blazers' 115-104 triumph Saturday night at the Moda Center.

Aldridge scored 21 points and Love had 15 points and 13 rebounds, but it was Portland's balance and bench play that stirred the embers of victory.

The Blazers (33-11) had six players score in double figures, including Mo Williams with 16. Williams was the ringleader of a Portland reserve group that outscored its Minnesota counterparts 34-15.

"They were great," Aldridge said of the Blazers' sub club. "They came in and were our big boys tonight."

Williams had his best all-around game of the season -- one short of the season-high 17 points he tallied in a 109-103 win at Detroit on Nov. 11. The 31-year-old 11th-year pro was 6 for 12 from the field, including 2 for 3 from 3-point range, with six assists and five rebounds in a fine 25-minute performance.

Second-year power forward Thomas Robinson had six points and six rebounds in 14 minutes, rookie guard C.J. McCollum six points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals in 16 minutes and center Joel Freeland four points on 2-for-2 shooting with six rebounds in 14 minutes. All told, Portland reserves were 15 for 27 from the field with 19 rebounds and 10 assists.

"Our bench was terrific," coach Terry Stotts said. "Our reserves made a difference in both halves. The energy -- it was just a little bit of everything."

The pre-game buzz surrounding the Aldridge-Love duel was enough to move each player to avoid the media -- Aldridge after Friday's practice, Love before Saturday night's game.

When it finally came down, neither player had a discernible edge.

Aldridge was 9 for 21 from the field and 3 for 3 from the free-throw line and had six rebounds in 34 minutes.

Love was 4 of 12 from the field and 6 for 6 from the line in his 36 minutes.

"It was much ado about nothing," said Lake Oswego High graduate Love, earlier in the week named as a Western Conference starter in the Feb. 16 All-Star Game. "We both didn't have a particularly great game. Other people stepped up on both of our teams, but he came away with the win."

"It was just two guys out there competing and fighting and trying to win, that's all," said Aldridge, who will surely be named to his third straight All-Star appearance.

Love and Aldridge were matched up most of the time, but the Blazers did a nice job with help defense when Love got the ball.

"We were very attentive to how he gets his baskets," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "LaMarcus did a very good job on him in the post, kept him from getting easy baskets. For (Love) to get only one offensive rebound takes a lot of work because he's always around (the basket).

"If you do a good job on his post-ups and take away his offensive rebounding, that leaves perimeter shooting. We did a good job of not giving him clean looks."

Portland's calling card all season has been the 3-point shot. The Blazers, who entered the game ranked first in the NBA in average makes per game (9.95) and second in percentage (.392), were only 4 for 16 Saturday night.

"A lot of people say we're one-dimensional," said Matthews, who scored 18 points on 6-for-10 shooting. "We shoot 3's, and (they say) that's the only way we can win. We've shown when we don't shoot them well, we can still be a tough team. We still have guys who can attack, who can make free throws, who can get their own shot.

"L.A.'s our centerpiece. When he draws attention, other people have to make plays. We have a lot of guys who can come out and have a night."

Portland won the battle in rebounds (50-40) and points in the paint (60-46), and made eight more baskets than Minnesota, which was 9 for 22 from 3-point range but shot only .427 overall.

"It's good to see we can win games in different ways," Stotts said.

The Timberwolves (21-22) were in it most of the way. With Kevin Martin bombing in 20 of his game-high 30 points in the first half -- including 4-for-4 shooting from 3-point territory -- they trailed 65-57 at the half but quickly closed the gap and led 79-78 late in the third quarter.

Portland scored the final seven points of the quarter to take an 87-81 advantage into the final period. A three-point play by Aldridge started a 7-0 run that extended Portland's edge to 105-88 with 5:29 to play. Minnesota never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way.

"We were right there, we played hard, but this is a tough team to play on a back-to-back," Love said. The Blazers "are very good."

NOTES: In his pregame chat with the media, Stotts made fun of the Aldridge-Love matchup by quipping, "Two of the best forwards in the league. We have the best; they probably have the second-best." … The Trail Blazers got their 33rd win, matching their victory total of last season -- with 38 games yet to play. It means "nothing," Stotts said. "We put last year in the rear-view mirror a long time ago. Early in the season, the comparisons to last year were understandable, but everybody in the locker room has moved on from last year." … Love got his NBA-high 38th double-double and teammate Nikola Pekovic (23 points, 11 rebounds his 23rd of the season. Portland's Robin Lopez (15 points, 10 rebounds) had his 17th double-double. The Timberwolves' Ricky Rubio (10 points, 11 assists) also achieved a double-double. … Lillard had 14 points and five assists but made only 5 of 17 shots from the field. Over the last three games, the second-year point guard has averaged 13.0 points on 16-for-42 shooting, including 1 for 13 from 3-point range. … Besides Williams' 2 for 3, the Blazers were a collective 2 for 13 on 3-point attempts. Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Lillard were a combined 1 for 12. It was the second straight game the Blazers have made only four treys. They were 4 for 18 in a 110-105 win over Denver Thursday night. … Williams on McCollum: "CJ is going to get better and better. As the year goes on, he's going to have some great nights, some good nights and some not-so-great nights, being a rook. The great thing about it is, he's out there with a guy like me, a veteran. He doesn't have a lot of pressure on him." … Minnesota's bench shot a combined 5 for 21 from the field.

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