Trail Blazers' Outlook Bright as They Take on Division Rival Minnesota

Christian Petersen

The Blazers finally face a game they have a good chance of winning as the hobbled and limited Minnesota Timberwolves come to town. How will Portland respond?

(Friday Update: Blazers center J.J. Hickson will start after missing one game with a shoulder injury, according to Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com here and Mike Tokito of The Oregonian here.)

The 5-5 Minnesota Timberwolves have exhibited a split personality so far this season. They've notched a couple of wins against good teams (Indiana, Dallas) and suffered a couple losses against bad (Toronto, Charlotte). They've spent much of the season lovelorn as their star power forward sat with a hand injury. He scored 34 in his return in their last game versus Denver but they still lost. Now they face mid-to-low-division rivals in the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden, tip-off 7:10, televised in Portland on KGW TV.

Love's return restores some of the drama to this game lost when Brandon Roy went down to (near-inevitable) knee surgery. Love vs. Aldridge is one of THE premium power forward matchups in the West, if not all the league. Love is a stat-blasting Olympian, Aldridge a sneaky-smooth jab thrower. Each should take this as a challenge. If anything has been eating at Aldridge's motivation, this game ought to cure it.

Also interesting: the Blazers' centers matching up with Nikola Pekovic. Pek is coming back off of an ankle injury but is shooting over 53% on the season and is capable of a 20-point night. Portland's centers probably won't match him offensively but they could dominate on the boards. Which will tell? And can the Blazers bother Pekovic at all or will this be Marcin Gortat Part 2?

Small forward Andrei Kirilenko has experienced something of a resurgence this year with the Timberwolves. He's playing big minutes, shooting well, and showing more defensive chutzpah than he has for years. He also makes a formidable rebounding partner for Love. Nicolas Batum has had an even better start to his season, so this matchup takes on overtones of surging SF's known for defense coming head to head.

The backcourt spots, however, belong to the Blazers. Luke Ridnour is capable but he's no defender and he can't hold a candle to Damian Lillard's offense. Lillard should finally get a matchup he can dominate and not worry too much about being burned. Absent Roy, the 'Wolves are starting sophomore Malcolm Lee. The guy is shooting 27.5% from the floor and 15% from the arc. His True Shooting% is below 33, which should be illegal. His defense isn't that great. Wesley Matthews should be drooling on offense and ready to help wherever needed on defense.

The star off of Minnesota's bench is 23-year-old Russian guard Alexey Shved. He's not shooting great either (38%, 26% from the arc) but he's put together a few double-digit outings including a 22-point performance versus Golden State. Blazer fans will be familiar with Jose Juan Barea, lately of Dallas, and Dante Cunningham, former Trail Blazer. Forwards Josh Howard and Lou Amundson and center Greg Stiesma round out the role-playing end of the bench. It's not a bad group but they're unlikely to set the world on fire unless paired directly against Portland's bench players.

Injuries have made it hard to get a bead on Minnesota's preferred style but we do know that they're not an easy-bucket kind of team. There's a whole bunch of jump-shooting going on and they're not populated with great shooters. That's an instant advantage to Portland. On the other hand they don't allow easy shots either, guarding in transition well and the paint acceptably. They are sometimes prone to turnovers which could certainly help the Blazers.

The Timberwolves are a wonderful offensive rebounding team. This could be a source of tempo control and easy points if the Blazers let it get out of hand. The Blazers are a good defensive rebounding team, though, and they haven't shown an inclination to give away second looks.

The Timberwolves will probably want to walk it up, control the action, grind Portland into boredom and bully their way to a win via Love and those O-rebounds (making up for the missed jumpers). The Blazers would like the game to revolve around a faster tempo, more free shooting, and deadly marksmanship. Considering that this game is at the energy-filled Rose Garden and the Blazers actually have a talent advantage--or at least not a severe disadvantage--for once, Portland should have a great shot at winning this one.

Canis Hoopus is your Timberwolves hook-up.

Your Jersey Contest Form for this game.

Portland Trail Blazer tickets for all games are available from Blazer's Edge sponsor TiqIQ.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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