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Timberwolves trounce Portland to open softer stretch of schedule

The Timberwolves are fresh off a 16-game stretch over the last month-plus that was entirely made up of opponents currently slated to make the playoffs.

It was a grueling slate in which Minnesota went 9-7.

But playing a bunch of high-quality teams in succession should mean you’re eventually due to joust with a few cellar dwellers. Such was the case Friday at Target Center.

The Timberwolves got a pillow-soft landing spot, taking on a Portland team that can’t get out of its own way tat the moment. The Blazers fell by 62 — yes, 62 — points Thursday in Oklahoma City.

Minnesota took full advantage of the matchup, blitzing the Blazers for a 116-93 victory in Minneapolis.

The Timberwolves entered the contest as 16.5-point favorites, which only generates trepidation amid a fan base so accustomed to Minnesota (27-11) struggling mightily — or even losing — as prohibitive favorites.

But the opposite has been the M.O. of these Wolves, who routinely feast on the weak.

“Just learning from last year, games like these, playing below .500 teams, we would play down to competition,” Wolves wing Jaden McDaniels said Friday morning. “I think we’ve learned from previous years, not doing that and just coming in and treating them with respect.”

Still, it’s only natural for a team in Minnesota’s position — fresh off not only a difficult stretch of opponents, but also a four-game road trip — to take a breath and perhaps let up.

But that was less likely to occur against Portland (10-28). Minnesota still remembered its embarrassing home loss to a severely undermanned Blazers team last April, and was determined to not allow history to repeat.

“It’s easier to (stay focused against them),” McDaniels said. “I feel like we’re locked in. Our headlights are on, so we’ll be fine.”

Those headlights were set to high beam out of the gates Friday, as the Wolves scored the first 11 points of the night and led by 22 before even eight minutes had elapsed.

“Seeing the way we came out with our urgency early has been the difference, I think, in a year,” said Mike Conley, who tallied 10 assists in just 20 minutes of action. “We would’ve played around with the game (last season), made it a close game and anything can happen at that point. Tonight, we really stepped on the gas pedal from first tip and defensively, we were just super aggressive and offensively we got easy stuff because of that.”

Minnesota got mighty sluggish in the second frame, which allowed Portland to briefly trim the deficit to single digits, but the Wolves quickly corrected course and re-established a massive advantage.

The Wolves led by as many as 36 points in a game that was never remotely competitive. Minnesota’s end-of-bench reserves played the majority of the final frame.

Rudy Gobert feasted on the interior against Portland’s undersized, overmatched front court to the tune of 24 points and 17 rebounds. Karl-Anthony Towns had 23 points on just eight shot attempts.

Minnesota finished with 60 points in the paint to Portland’s 36. The Blazers shot just 39 percent from the field.

“Set a tone. We knew they had a tough game last night, but it’s about us,” Gobert said. “It’s about us and that’s the mindset that we want to have every single night, every single day, just come in and be the best Minnesota Timberwolves that we can be. When we have that mindset, from the first minute of the game, usually good things happen.”

If the Timberwolves can continue to beat up bad teams, it will serve them well in the standings over the next couple weeks. After Sunday’s showdown with the Clippers, six of Minnesota’s seven ensuing games are against much lesser competition.

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