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Love, Pekovic lead Wolves over Blazers

The SportsXchange

MINNEAPOLIS -- For nearly two days the Timberwolves had fumed over a hard-to-swallow loss in Boston. On Wednesday at Target Center they gained a measure of atonement.

Forward Kevin Love finished one assist shy of a triple-double and center Nikola Pekovic finished one point shy of his career best in a 120-109 victory over a Portland team playing its fourth game in five nights.

Love had 29 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists and Pekovic hit 14 of 19 shots for 30 points for the Wolves, who built a huge lead early then held off a spirited 3-point-fueled comeback attempt by the Blazers (22-5), whose five-game winning streak came to an end.

"We felt we'd tricked one off in Boston," Love said of his team's listless loss to the Celtics on Monday night. "We wanted to come with effort tonight. It was nice to have a day off, then catch a team playing a fourth game in five nights."

With exquisite ball movement and relentless pounding inside, the Wolves (13-13) built a 32-point lead in the second quarter, still led by 26 at halftime, then endured a comeback led by guards Damian Lillard (36 points) and Nicolas Batum (20) and forward LaMarcus Aldridge (15).

Lillard scored 26 points in the second half for the Blazers, who pulled within 10 points late in the third quarter and within five on Batum's trey with 46 seconds left in the game. Batum hit 7 of 14 3-point shots and the Blazers tossed up 40 treys overall.

But, each time, the Wolves turned the Blazers back.

"This is a good win, one we had to get," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. "And it came against a team playing great."

Guard Kevin Martin added 22 points for the Wolves, and guard J.J. Barea came off the bench to score 10. But the Wolves' bread and butter Wednesday was the paint, where they scored 72 points on 36-of-51 shooting (70.6 percent). Ball movement got Pekovic open, and the Blazers' 20 turnovers got the Wolves' break going.

It all started early.

Love had six points, nine rebounds and five assists in the first quarter, which Minnesota finished on an 11-4 run to take a nine-point lead. And then the second quarter happened. Love had 11 points and Pekovic nine as the Wolves opened the quarter with a 31-8 run to take a 62-30 lead on Pekovic's layup with 4:52 left in the half.

"Obviously the first half was terrible," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "Minnesota played terrific. They had everything going. We gave up too much and dug too deep of a hole."

But they almost didn't, because Portland responded with the inevitable run.

Lillard hit on 4 of 6 3-pointers in the third quarter, scoring 17 points as the Blazers chipped away at the Wolves' lead. Center Joel Freeland's layup with 3:34 left in the quarter made it 80-70. But Love scored his team's next seven points and Barea had two 3-pointers as the Wolves finished the quarter on an 18-8 run.

The Blazers weren't done. Lillard, relentless, kept letting it fly. His 3-pointer with 2:04 left got the lead down to nine. With 45 seconds left, Batum's trey made it a five-point game. But the Wolves scored the final six points to seal their first win vs. Portland in eight tries.

It was closer, perhaps, than it should have been.

"It says how much we've grown," said Lillard, who scored 36 points for the second time in two nights. "We had a great effort to finish the game. But we didn't deserve to win that game after how we came out."

NOTES: In Tuesday's victory in Cleveland, Portland G Damian Lillard became the first player to finish a game with at least 36 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and eight 3-pointers since Jason Kidd on April 11, 1995. Lillard also became just the fourth player in the last 15 years to hit the go-ahead shot with less than 2 seconds left in the fourth quarter or overtime in consecutive games. ... Timberwolves F Chase Budinger, who had knee surgery Sept. 30 and has not played this season, was cleared for full-contact practice starting Thursday. Given that this is the second surgery on the knee in as many seasons, coach Rick Adelman said the team will be conservative in bringing him back. ... Both SG Kevin Martin (sore knee) and reserve F Dante Cunningham (turned ankle) played Wednesday.
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