The best news for the Trail Blazers as they head down the stretch of their playoff chase?
CJ McCollum will have two more meetings against Minnesota.
McCollum on Saturday had another dominant performance against Minnesota, as he followed up a 43-point performance in January with a 32-point performance to lead the Trail Blazers to a 112-100 victory.
Of the Blazers’ remaining 10 games, two are against the Timberwolves, a team this season which McCollum has made 27-of-38 field goal attempts and is averaging 37.5 points. On Saturday, he made 11-of-13 shots, which came on the heels of his career-high 43-point night on Jan. 1 in Minneapolis, when Portland came back from a 14-point deficit to win.
On Saturday, McCollum scored his 32 points in 29 minutes, leading with 7:13 in the fourth quarter and the Blazers ahead 105-81.
"Very impressive,'' coach Terry Stotts said. "He really had it going and he scored in a variety of ways – getting to rim, jump shots ... he had an outstanding game.''
McCollum wasn’t the only one with the hot hand. Portland shot a season-best 62.5 percent and was so comfortably ahead that Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic didn’t have to play in the fourth quarter.
The win moved Portland (34-38) to within one game of Denver (35-37) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference as both teams are streaking toward the finish line. Portland is 10-3 in March and 11-5 since the All-Star Break. Denver has won seven of 10 and next plays Sunday at home against New Orleans before heading to Portland for a Tuesday matchup with the Blazers.
Minnesota (28-44) has lost six in a row and seven of the last eight to fall out of the playoff race. They were coming off an overtime loss the night before in Los Angeles to the Lakers, during which they lost a 15-point lead, the 19th time they lost a game this season after leading by double-figures, the most in the NBA.
About the only bad news for the Blazers was Lillard having his consecutive games streak of 25-points or more snapped at eight, the third longest in franchise history. Lillard scored 21 on 8-of-13 shooting and added eight assists and six rebounds in 29 minutes.
The Blazers were in control by halftime, 60-46, thanks to a strong close. The Timberwolves trailed by 12 in the second quarter, but got within 44-41 before the Blazers went on a 12-1 run that was keyed by three-points from McCollum and Lillard and back-to-back fast break finishes from Al-Farouq Aminu. Jusuf Nurkic put the finishing touches on the half by rebounding his own miss and scoring with 2.2 seconds left.
The Blazers, who have had trouble protecting big leads at times this season, went for the jugular in the third, when they finished the quarter by scoring on seven of their final eight possessions to take a comfortable 94-74 lead heading into the fourth.
"I thought this was one of better games as far as building lead and holding lead,'' Stotts said, noting he was able to keep all his starters under 30 minutes. "It's good to have those.''
Minnesota would get as close as 99-81, but Portland closed the deal behind reserves Allen Crabbe (10 points) and Evan Turner (eight points) to improve to 19-15 at the Moda Center.
Andrew Wiggins led Minnesota with 20 points, Karl-Anthony Towns added 16 and Ricky Rubio had 16 points and four assists. Nurkic had 14 points, nine rebounds and four assists for Portland, which is 11-6 since he joined the team.
Next up: Blazers at Lakers, 6:30 p.m. Sunday (KGW)