Timberwolves snap Blazers’ 6-game streak, 110-109

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) —  As Karl-Anthony Towns powered through Portland’s smaller frontcourt, the Trail Blazers found out just how much they’re going to miss big man Jusuf Nurkic down the stretch.

Towns had 34 points and 12 rebounds and the Minnesota Timberwolves snapped Portland’s six-game winning streak with a 110-109 victory over the Trail Blazers on Monday night.

It was the second game for Portland without Nurkic, who galvanized the team after coming over in a trade from Denver at the deadline.

He will miss at least the rest of the regular season with a fractured right leg, leaving the Blazers to battle big frontcourts in San Antonio, Utah and one more time against Minnesota without him and just a 1 1/2-game cushion on Denver for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

“There’s a lot of good bigs out there, and we’re thin right now. We’ve got Meyers (Leonard) and (Al-Farouq Aminu), who’s not really a five,” C.J. McCollum said. “So we’re in a tough position, but it’s not an excuse. We’ve got to go out there and play and make the best of it.”

Damian Lillard scored 25 points but made just 7 of 21 shots, including 3 of 11 3-pointers. His potential game-winning pull-up jumper at the buzzer glanced off the rim.

Andrew Wiggins scored 29 points and Ricky Rubio had 11 points, 16 assists and seven rebounds for the Timberwolves, who bounced back from an ugly home loss to Sacramento that eliminated them from postseason contention on Saturday.

“They’re playing small, we have a big who can guard smalls and play like a big at the other end,” Rubio said of Towns. “That’s big for us.”

Aminu scored 20 points and Maurice Harkless had 17 points, eight rebounds and a big block of a Rubio drive that gave the Blazers the ball back with 4.9 seconds to play.

Lillard got a clean look, but couldn’t knock it down and Portland missed a golden chance to pad its lead on Denver in a tense race.

The Blazers beat lowly Phoenix in their first game without Nurkic and went super-small on Monday against the Wolves with Aminu and Harkless seeing some time at center.

The sleek lineup put the Blazers in control with a 34-point second quarter, but the 7-foot Towns had his way in the fourth. He scored 14 points in the period, including a big dunk for a 110-106 lead with 35 seconds to go.

“We just had a hard time,” Lillard said. “Guys competed hard on him. We made it as hard as we could on him, but he’s very good and he’s going to score points. That’s what happened.”

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Terry Stotts was the Western Conference coach of the month and Lillard was the conference’s player of the month as Portland finished March at 13-3. … Lillard’s first 3 of the game in the third quarter gave him 200 for the season, the third time he’s done that in his career. Wes Matthews is the only other Blazers player to do it even one time.

Timberwolves: Brandon Rush scored 12 points, giving him back-to-back double-digit efforts for the first time since Jan. 11-13. … Rubio hit a technical free throw in the third quarter after the Blazers were whistled for defensive 3 seconds. It was his 49th straight technical free throw made, the longest active streak in the league.

MCCOLLUM STRUGGLES

McCollum struggled as well, scoring 17 points on 5-for-14 shooting and 0 for 3 on 3s. He scored 43 and 32 points in his first two games against the Wolves.

“I think I’ve got to be more aggressive at certain times,” he said.

MAKEUP GAME

Both teams are set up for difficult back-to-backs because this game had to be shoe-horned into the schedule. It was originally scheduled to be played on March 6, but an ice sheet that was placed under the court so Target Center could host a college hockey tournament started to melt due to unseasonably warm weather. That caused condensation on the court that could not be corrected, so the league postponed the game.

 

Reports: Lakers to sign Andrew Bogut to one-year deal

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Brook Lopez will start at center for the Lakers. Behind him, they have a couple young players they want to groom, Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant.

Those youngsters just got bumped a notch down the ladder — Andrew Bogut is about to become a Laker. Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports broke the news, and other reports have confirmed it.

Lakers’ coach Luke Walton coached Bogut at Golden State, and that connection helped get him to Los Angeles when Boston, Minnesota, and Cleveland were also trying to land his services. Bogut gets the system Walton wants to run and wants to be part of this new Lakers team.

The question with Bogut is always health. He can be a solid defensive big in the paint and is a good passer, but last season he broke his tibia in his first game with the Cavaliers, the latest in a long line of health concerns. Bogut’s doctors have cleared him to play.

The Lakers also add a solid veteran presence to help mentor those young bigs (although if Bogut is taking minutes from them it seems counterproductive). Bogut can show Zubac and Bryant the art of setting the best illegal screens in the league (he’s a master, Lonzo Ball will love him). We’ll see how many minutes Bogut gets when it matters.

This one-year deal gives the Lakers another potential trade chip and does not mess with their cap space next summer, when they want to clear out room and go after two max free agents (which will mean dumping the contract of Luol Deng, likely with Julius Randle or someone as a sweetener, to get the space). For Bogut, stay healthy and play well and he might come back on a minimum contract to a stacked Lakers team next season.

Report: Grizzlies to sign Ivan Rabb, adds to already crowded roster

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The Memphis Grizzlies have 15 guaranteed contracts on the roster already — and that’s not counting a deal for JaMychal Green and the non-guaranteed deal for Mario Chalmers.

Which makes this signing interesting, via Marc Spears of ESPN.

The Grizzlies and second-round pick Ivan Rabb are close to agreeing terms on a three-year contract, a source told The Undefeated.

Two years of that are rumored to be guaranteed. If so, that leads to questions about who gets cut from the roster and paid anyway? Or, are the Grizzlies setting themselves up for a trade during camp? Also, Mario Chalmers is going to have to show enough skill for another team to grab him.

Rabb is a 6’10” guy with potential but a lot of development to do. He may be more of a four than a small ball five, but he needs time on the court to find out and show off his game. He didn’t get a lot of that time to show what he can do in Summer League due to a sprained ankle. He should get run in Grizzlies camp, where there are going to be some interesting roster battles.

Report: Andrew Wiggins to sign $148M max extension before camp opens

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Old-school owner Glen Taylor wanted to talk with Andrew Wiggins face-to-face before maxing out the Timberwolves young wing, likely to say something along the lines of “you’re going to earn this, right?”

However, the deal was always on the table. Wiggins was always going to sign it.

That should happen in the next week, reports Darren Wolfson.

Wiggins averaged 23.6 points per game last season, shot 35.7 percent from three, plus played solid defense, but he’s got a big new challenge this season — mesh with Jimmy Butler. Wiggins and Butler both play on the wing and have similar games — except Butler is pretty much better at everything. Thibodeau doesn’t want to have Wiggins just sitting on the weak side as a floor spacer most of the time, he’s got to get him involved. Problem is Karl-Anthony Towns is a flat-out stud who has to get a lot of touches, and while we’re at it Jeff Teague is better with the ball in his hands as well.

Can Wiggins improve his efficiency with fewer touches? Can he make the needed sacrifices to win and still find a way to assert himself (a question for a lot of the Timberwolves this season)? Wiggins has gotten his big payday, this season we start to see if he can take the next steps to being truly an elite player.

Watch Stephen Curry drill a penalty kick at Chelsea’s stadium

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Chelsea is off to an expected strong start to the English Premier League season, racking up 10 points (3-1-1) in five contests, with a solid +3 goal differential. (That has them just one spot ahead of my beloved Newcastle, which is an unexpected fourth with nine points through five… I’m good with calling it a season right now and taking these standings).

If Chelsea is looking for a striker — and they might want one after a 0-0 draw with Arsenal over the weekendStephen Curry seems to have a decent right foot. He swung by Stamford Bridge and took a penalty kick (that the goalie probably could have stopped but…)

If Curry could strike from distance on the pitch like he does on the court, then we might have something.