PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Hassan Whiteside’s play, good or bad, is critical to the Portland Trail Blazers.
The 7-foot center was at his best Saturday night, finishing with 16 points, 22 rebounds and seven blocks as the Trail Blazers beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 113-106 for their season-high fourth straight victory.
Even while he was struggling with injuries earlier this season and became the subject of trade speculation, Whiteside’s teammates never stopped motivating him to dominate.
“When you see games like this game, the Golden State game, stuff like that, it’s almost like it’s obvious when he’s not doing it,” said Damian Lillard, who scored 29 points for Portland. “It’s obvious when he’s not bringing it because when he does, it’s so obvious and it’s such a big deal for our team. It was a great game. Great game.”
Whiteside leads the NBA with 73 blocked shots.
“That was a challenge from my coach — lead the league in blocks,” Whiteside said.
“I feel like I’m the best rim protector in the league,” he added. “Even last year, through all the naysayers or whatever, you look who protected the rim in field goal percentage, it was still me at the end of the day. So I feel like I’m the best rim protector (and) it’s not even close.”
Over the last four games, Whiteside has averaged 13 points, 19 rebounds and four blocks.
“We really need him to rebound defensively or we’re not going to get the rebound, as we’ve shown,” Portland guard CJ McCollum said.
McCollum had 26 points and swingman Kent Bazemore scored a season-high 19 for the Blazers, who played without a banged-up Carmelo Anthony.
Andrew Wiggins scored 33 points for the Timberwolves, but Whiteside made things difficult for them inside all night.
“It’s hard to finish over him,” Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders said.
Minus injured All-Star big man Karl-Anthony Towns, the Minnesota offense continued to struggle early, particularly from outside as the Wolves missed nine of their first 10 3-point attempts. Gorgui Dieng helped by making three 3-pointers and scoring 15 points. Shabazz Napier had 18 points and four assists, while Jeff Teague scored 18 off the bench.
Lillard had 19 points in the first half to push Portland to a 61-52 halftime lead.
Minnesota went on a 7-0 run to start the second half, fueled by Portland turnovers. After committing only five turnovers in the first half, the Blazers had five to begin the third quarter. Teague’s running 3 cut the Blazers’ lead to 83-80 at the third-quarter buzzer.
Another 3-pointer by Teague tied the game 83-all at the 11:02 mark of the fourth quarter. He scored 12 straight points for Minnesota before being subbed out.
Minnesota tied it two more times in the fourth before Portland pulled away. A basket from Lillard and a 3-pointer from McCollum pushed Portland ahead 98-93 with 5:24 left.
The Blazers kept the Wolves at arm’s length for the rest of the game as Minnesota never again got closer than three.
Whiteside’s putback gave Portland a 107-100 lead with 41 seconds left to put the game away.
Timberwolves: For the third straight game the Timberwolves were without Towns, their leading scorer. His injury has forced Saunders to tinker with his lineups, such as moving Teague to a sixth-man role off the bench to help power the reserves to 44 points on Friday. “It makes a big difference,” Saunders said. “Obviously, we’re missing a big piece in Karl and we just ask for daily growth. We just ask these guys to compete. We felt good coming out of the game last night.” Saunders said Towns was “progressing” but didn’t offer much more.
Trail Blazers: After banging knees against Orlando on Friday, Anthony was ruled out for this one. He left Friday’s game in the second quarter and did not return. After working out a little bit Saturday morning, Anthony made the determination not to play. “He got treatment this morning just to see how things felt and it just wasn’t quite right,” coach Terry Stotts said. Anthony is averaging 16 points and six rebounds per game while shooting 41.7% on 3-pointers.
Timberwolves: At the Golden State Warriors on Monday.
Trail Blazers: Host the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday.
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