PORTLAND — Finally, after months of players shuttling in and out, the Maine Red Claws have stabilized their roster.

Yes, they made a move Friday to strengthen their point guard position, but for the most part this team has been together for three weeks. And it’s starting to show on the court.

For the second straight game, the Maine Red Claws overran the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, racing to a 128-111 victory Friday night before a crowd of 3,045, the 21st consecutive sellout at the Portland Expo.

Eight players scored in double figures, led by Morris Almond with 26 points, and the Red Claws committed a season-low nine turnovers.

“I thought we played well,” said Coach Austin Ainge. “A couple of guys played really well, but we all played well.”

And a lot has to do with players finally getting to know each other. The Red Claws looked much more comfortable than they have, making the extra pass, helping on defense, and it couldn’t come at a better time.

“We’re learning each other’s game,” said Almond. “It’s that time of year. You better start getting comfortable.”

The victory lifted Maine to 26-17, still fifth in the playoff standings (the top eight teams get in). Albuquerque, which lost 122-95 to Maine on Wednesday, dropped to 18-27.

The Red Claws took the lead for good with 5:08 left in the first period and despite a couple of runs by the Thunderbirds, made it look easy after that. Albuquerque trailed only 58-57 late in the second quarter after a long 3-pointer by Keith McLeod (34 points), but Paul Davis scored inside, Maurice Ager made a steal that led to a fast-break swooping dunk by Almond, and Darnell Lazare made a steal and breakaway dunk, and it was 64-57.

The lead was 67-62 at the half, then the Red Claws outscored the Thunderbirds 35-19 in the third quarter — Almond getting 11 and Lazare six — to lead 102-81 entering the fourth.

“We were grabbing the ball off the rim and running,” said T.J. Cummings. “We ran whenever we got the chance.”

Davis, who had 15 points, said Maine “made a conscious effort to make a couple of stops and get off to a fast start. We wanted to put them away as quickly as we could.”

Albuquerque Coach John Coffino said his team’s third-quarter woes resurfaced.

“It’s been our Achilles’ heel all year, whether we’re in the lead or not,” he said. “I can’t put my finger on it. Is it my halftime speech?”

Seriously, he said, it takes a lot to stay with the Red Claws.

“I thought we battled for the first half but we couldn’t stay with them,” he said. “When you’re playing a team that’s so loaded like Maine, it’s tough. You’ve got to watch your matchups. They played with a lot of energy, a lot of effort.”

Ainge singled out Marcus Landry (14 points, five rebounds) for his best effort of the season, as well as Kurt Looby, who had 14 points, nine rebounds and five blocks.

“We feel real comfortable with this group and we’re trying to get everything cleaned up so we can make a run in the playoffs,” said Ainge.

 

NOTES: The Red Claws waived rookie guard Terrel Harris and acquired veteran guard Brock Gillespie from the free-agent pool. Gillespie, 27, had been playing in Lebanon, where he was averaging 26.7 points and 5.9 assists. He began the year in Finland. He had 1,007 points at Rice.

 

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]