Game Time: 6:00 p.m. Pacific TV: Comcast
Suffering through the latest in an interminable litany of rough starts to their seasons, the Minnesota Timberwolves bring a 1-5 record into the Rose Garden tonight to face the Blazers. If this surprises you then you might also be shocked to learn that it's a little cold in Minnesota this time of year. And that hockey is popular there. And that if you want gravy with your meal you have your choice of white, off-white, beige, or cream...which is also the standard culinary color palette of the region. But that's OK, because all they eat is soup. Except in the summer, which lasts exactly 2.5 days in early August. That's when everybody flocks to the lakeshore to get eaten by mosquitoes. Well, except for the substantial portion of the population that can't get to the lakeshore because of all of the road construction they do in those 2.5 days. Gotta fix the potholes yanno. In Oregon "pothole" is that depression in your seat divider where you hide your stash, but in Minnesota they can literally swallow your car. This is not only bad for your shocks, it leaves nasty abrasions from the gravel that has collected at the bottom from last year's snow traction follies.
In any case, even though the ‘Wolves have hit the NBA pothole from hell, to their credit they've only been blown out twice, actually generating a close finish against Boston and a reasonable one against Phoenix. But close only counts in prom dancing and federal budget planning. 1-5 is 1-5 and the Blazers should be prepared to take this team out early and never let them back in.
One of the chief sources of Minnesota's woes, besides never being able to live down having elected an ex-wrestler to the state's highest office (darn you, Iron Range!), has been the shaky recovery of star forward Al Jefferson from knee and Achilles problems. Jefferson is back into the rotation this year but he's shooting 39.6% from the field. That's a bad number for your gunner guard. From the forward-center upon whom you depend for superstar production it's a disaster. Like the Jell-o running out before supper. Or Gary Anderson missing his only field goal of the year just when you need those three points to take you to the Sup...uhhhh...sorry. Too soon? My bad. Jefferson has had a couple nice games but he's been inconsistent. Naughty or nice, he's not been able to lead them to wins. They've just gotten closer when he's played better.
One of the bright spots of the young season has been rookie point guard Jonny Flynn, whose name sounds like he should be the lead character in a Broadway Musical. "What are you doing here, Jonny Flynn?" "Why I'm here to court trouble, and woo a girl, and build the most fantastical contraption the world has ever seen!" Flynn's fantastical contraptivating has propelled him to a 51% shooting clip and 15 points on 10.5 shots per game. He's been averaging only 3.2 assists per game though, coupled with 3.3 turnovers. Stop me if you've heard this one before. A Minnesota GM walks into the draft and says, "Give me a point guard who's more of a scoring guard and can't really take care of the ball." That said, Flynn has more promise than Randy Foye or the boatload of point guards who preceded him and is likely to be a nice pick-up for the team.
Another new arrival is forward Oleksiy Pecherov, late of the Washington Wizards. He's got a sneaky offensive game, gives energy, and can rebound some. He's been doing both for the ‘Wolves and appears to be blossoming in his new home. Less successful has been point guard Ramon Sessions who can't seem to get used to the new system, new teammates, and the expectations that have been put upon him. He's falling deeper and deeper into the rotation. 7-footer Ryan Hollins also comes off the bench to provide a small scoring boost.
A couple stalwarts from past years remain with the team. Ryan Gomes is a 6'7" bruiser with range who always gives the Blazers fits. Corey Brewer is an energy guy with no offensive game...and often not much energy.
The ‘Wolves had a difficult time last season in part because they started three forwards and no center. Their solution to the problem this year is to start four forwards and no center. Having ditched Foye in the backcourt they now send Brewer out there. For the record that's one small forward, one swing small-power forward, and two power forwards plus Jonny Flynn. But don't worry, that'll only last until Kevin Love's hand heals. Then they'll probably get rid of that pesky small forward and just go with four power forwards and Flynn.
Fielding that lineup it's little surprise that Minnesota is coughing the ball up like a loogie in the snow. They're also shooting an anemic percentage from the field and an abysmal percentage from the three-point arc. They're giving up more foul shots than they generate. Their shot blocking can best be described as "Minnesota Nice". They're only barely holding their own on the boards. It's a bigger nightmare than that time they caught revered columnist Sid Hartman French kissing a llama in the janitor's closet at the Star-Trib. Ewwwww...the flashbacks are the worst.
If Minnesota is going to win they need you to make a ton of mistakes, pay no attention on the boards, and they need to get hot from the field. That's a pretty tall order. Let's hope the Blazers aren't in an obliging mood.
Pivotal Points of the Game
1. If you hound their point guards, who else is going to handle the ball? Or make a pass? Or do anything good besides put up a possibly awkward shot?
2. Even though you want to make it tough for Flynn and company to move the ball you can actually relax if their point guards score. They'll not win the game on their own. The only guy who can possibly do that is Jefferson. Don't let him wake up and you have the ball game.
3. This game should be an offensive buffet for Portland. They have no shot-blockers, so get the ball inside. Posting with Oden is good. Driving guards are good. They pretty much have to commit extra men to stop any aggression. When they do that, flick the ball outside. They'll not recover from the perimeter and you should be able to feast on threes all night long. If your offense is struggling you stopped you. They won't do it.
4. The only other key is not to get lazy or complacent. Any team can grab offensive rebounds and score off of misses. Any team can run out and convert your careless turnovers. Play professional basketball, walk away with the win. Don't let them think they have a chance.
Check out the Minnesota point of view with our old friends at CanisHoopus.
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