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Timberwolves edge the Trail Blazers with Love

By Jerry Zgoda, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

MINNEAPOLIS — Two things happened — one familiar and one strange — during the Timberwolves’ 106-94 victory over Portland on Wednesday night at Target Center.

Timberwolves two-time All- Star Kevin Love excelled once again.

And second-year swingman Wes Johnson was noticed.

Love followed a 42-point night at Portland on Saturday and Monday’s 39-point game against the Clippers with a mere 29-point, 16-point rebound performance that moved the Wolves into a tie with Houston for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot. And the Wolves own the tiebreaker.

And Johnson, who has astonished Timberwolves Nation by remaining in the starting lineup all season despite an astounding lack of offensive production, asserted himself more than he has all season.

It was a 19-point performance on 8-for-11 shooting that was so unexpected it produced a scene at halftime not seen or heard all season:

One of the many young fans who wait for autographs as the Wolves left the court and head to their locker room turned to one of his buddies as players hurriedly walked past and said, “Where’s Wes?”

OK, that has been said at Target Center often this season, only not in that context.

“I’m a shooter so I just got to shoot the ball,” Johnson said afterward.

The victory was the Wolves’ second in five days over the Trail Blazers and their eighth in the past 11 games.

It also was their fifth consecutive home victory, their longest there since they won five from Dec. 26, 2006, to Jan. 7, 2007.

The Wolves now are two games over .500 — 21-19 — for the first time this late in the season since they went 44-38 in the 2004-05 season.

“We’ve turned it around from last year,” Johnson said. “We’ve just got to keep it going.”

Love had 15 points after one quarter, 20 points by halftime and 24 after three quarters on a night when he once again outplayed Blazers All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, although not nearly by the 42-14 scoring margin he did Saturday in Portland.

Aldridge bounced back after two subpar performances Saturday and Monday with a 22-point night despite battling foul trouble much of the evening.

The play of Love and Johnson helped carry the Wolves to a 14-point, third-quarter lead.

Then when the Blazers pulled within six points — at 90-84 — midway through the fourth quarter, veteran guard Luke Ridnour took the Wolves the rest of the way.

Ridnour scored the Wolves’ next six points on a pair of outside jump shots and then a pair of free throws to twice repel the Blazers’ comeback attempts.

Rookie Derrick Williams’ thunderous baseline slam dunk and Martell Webster’s three-pointer punctuated a 12-4 run that provided a 102-88 cushion with fewer than two minutes left. Williams had another strong game with nine points and 11 rebounds.

The victory is the Wolves’ second consecutive over the Blazers after they had lost 16 consecutive games to them.

The loss is the Blazers’ fourth in five games, and their fourth in the past five road games as they started a seven-game trip through the Midwest and East on Wednesday night.

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