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Depleted Blazers fall to Timberwolves

Mar 8, 2015 - 6:43 AM Minneapolis, MN ( - Gary Neal scored 17 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter to help the Minnesota Timberwolves record a 121-113 victory over the somewhat short-handed Portland Trail Blazers at the Target Center.

Neal finished 8-of-11 from the field and the Timberwolves shot 54.1 percent as a team in halting a four-game skid and ending Portland's five-game win streak.

"I thought overall we were aggressive defensively," said Minnesota coach Flip Saunders.

Kevin Martin came up big for Minnesota as well, putting up a game-high 29 points, while Andrew Wiggins added 18 and Ricky Rubio dished out 15 assists to go along with 13 points.

The Trail Blazers found their first game without Wesley Matthews to be a tough task. They received 32 points from Damian Lillard and 21 from fellow star LaMarcus Aldridge, went 14-of-27 from 3-point range, but had trouble getting stops all evening long.

Matthews, third on the Blazers in scoring with a 15.9 points per game average, suffered a season-ending torn Achilles in Thursday's win over Dallas. Arron Afflalo finished with 14 points starting in Matthews' place.

The Timberwolves used their sharp shooting to pull away over the final six minutes after Portland closed within 94-93 on a Dorell Wright 3-pointer. Neal buried back-to-back jumpers to ignite a 6-0 run, and Minnesota later hit four straight shots down the stretch during an 11-5 sequence that had them up by nine with under a minute left.

Rubio sank a trey at the one-minute mark to push the lead to 109-102, and Neal followed with a pair of free throws after Afflalo missed from beyond the arc to cap the spurt.

"We didn't do the job defensively that we needed to do, first half and second half," said Portland coach Terry Stotts.

The Timberwolves trailed by 10 with under 4 1/2 minutes to go in the first half, but scored 10 of the last 14 points of the second quarter to close the gap. Wiggins tipped in a Nikola Pekovic miss to trim the lead to six in the final minute, and Kevin Garnett banked in a long two with 26.7 seconds left to bring Minnesota within 55-51 at the break.

Minnesota continued to surge during the early stages of the third quarter, with Martin and Wiggins leading a 12-2 run to open the period. The Timberwolves stayed in front throughout the frame, though Lillard drove the lane and scored to trim the margin to 81-77 entering the fourth.

Afflalo then hit a 3-pointer to begin the final stanza, and Portland tied it at 83-83 moments later.

The Blazers shot 55 percent in the first quarter and were up 30-24 before Martin netted five straight points to finish out the period. Portland put together an 11-1 flurry, ignited by consecutive treys from Lillard, Wright and Nicolas Batum, midway through the second to own a 51-41 advantage with 4:24 left before halftime.

Batum scored 13 of his 17 points over the first two quarters.

Game Notes

The Timberwolves have now won the last two meetings between the teams after losing 25 times to the Blazers in a 28-game stretch prior to their 90-82 victory in Minneapolis on Dec. 10 ... Minnesota went 25-of-31 from the free throw line, compared to a 13-of-17 rate for the Blazers ... Pekovic finished with 11 points and eight rebounds.