PORTLAND, Ore. — The last time the Minnesota Timberwolves visited Portland, they walked out of the Rose Garden and into the night winners over the Trail Blazers for the first time in nearly five years. They also left with a winning 19-18 record and fleeting possession of the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot after vaulting over the Blazers in one victorious evening.
Twenty-nine days later, they trudged off the Rose Garden court looking defeated in more ways than one after a 119-106 loss.
“Things have changed,” Wolves forward Kevin Love said. “Things have changed a lot.”
Back then, Ricky Rubio still was the team’s rookie sensation and the Wolves ended a four-game Western road trip a very respectable 2-2. They then headed home for a four-game stand that included that fateful night against the Lakers when Rubio clutched his knee in pain after tearing two ligaments in his knee.
On Sunday, they again played without four of their top six starters and lost for the fifth time in seven games.
They’re now 3.5 games behind Houston for that final playoff spot, with Utah, Phoenix and the Blazers all standing between them and the Rockets and 12 games left to play.
“We still believe we can win, but it’s tough when we have guys out like that,” Love said after his streak of 10 double-double games ended with a 26-point, nine-rebound night. “We’ve got to win just about every game, or a large majority of our games. It’s still there for us, but we need a tremendous amount of luck.”
The Wolves on Sunday played on without injured Rubio, starting center Nikola Pekovic and top reserves J.J. Barea and Michael Beasley. Also missing was reserve center Darko Milicic, who not only now has disappeared from the team’s nightly lineup but also from its traveling party.
“We’re not very big at the basket. We don’t challenge a lot of shots there,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “Our team is a totally different team right now. But I still think there are things that we could do a heckuva lot better.”
The Wolves on Sunday faded in the second half against a Portland team that did an extreme franchise makeover at last month’s trading deadline by firing coach Nate McMillan, hiring former video coordinator Kaleb Canales and trading away accomplished veterans Gerald Wallace and Marcus Camby.
All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge returned to the starting lineup after missing Friday’s game against the Clippers because of a sprained elbow and delivered a typical 26-point, eight-rebound night. Embattled point guard Raymond Felton flirted with a triple double — 10 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds — and even former Wolves guard Jonny Flynn got in on the party, recording a season-high seven assists while playing pick-and-roll with Aldridge and J.J. Hickson all night.
When it was all around, Love sat glumly at his locker stall for an unusually long time, his feet soaking in a tub of ice, his eyes staring at the floor.
Somebody asked him how the Blazers limited him to eight points after halftime and 26 for the game after he averaged 30.7 in March. “If an off night is 26 points, I’ll take it,” he said.
Adelman was asked the same question.
“Four of our top six scorers are missing. That puts a little pressure on him,” Adelman said. “We’re not the same team. They were staying with him and they did what they had to do. He has been carrying us for a long time and we have to have other people step up. If you don’t have other people scoring or making an impact, it’s hard. It’s really hard.”