Game Time: 6:00 p.m. TV: CSNNW and NBATV
The 24-28 Portland Trail Blazers meet the 25-28 Minnesota Timberwolves tonight in a game that once promised to decide playoff seeding order but now will help decide which of these teams ends up in their division's cellar. Granted the division is tough, but both teams hoped to be farther along than this. Neither is. Which will take it out on the other? The team that gets nasty first, punishing the other inside and on the boards, is likely to win this one.
Despite going 4-8 in their last 12 the Timberwolves have been riding a Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love over the last couple weeks. Their star scorer has decided to put to rest that whole debate about "Who's the best young power forward?" with the following lines in his last 5 games:
- 51 points, 14 rebounds vs. the Thunder
- 30 and 21 vs. the Nuggets
- 28 and 11 vs. the Grizzlies
- 40 and 19 vs. the Bobcats
- 22 and 11 vs. the Celtics
That's like the guy showing up in the club with the 20-pound gold necklace, huge rings, gold belt, bejeweled chalice, and diamonds embedded in all of his teeth. He didn't come to sit in a corner booth and sip tonic water. He's here to own the joint. Come strong or get out of the way.
The Power of Love is on display so strongly because center Nikola Pekovic is out indefinitely, a serious blow to Minnesota's chances as he'd been a not-so-quiet stalwart in the middle for them. This leaves Love playing center next to a pack of 6'8" guys (Derrick Williams, Martell Webster, and Wesley Johnson) plus point guard Luke Ridnour, himself filling in for the injured Ricky Rubio. They've got some skill there but they seem to be able to score or defend, not both. Their shooting has been off and they can't keep opponents off the boards. This is a serious issue because rebounding was Minnesota's claim to fame defensively. They're not shot blockers, nor do they force turnovers. They're not good defending in transition nor in the paint. If they don't get the boards they have nothing upon which to build a defensive scheme.
Their offense right now can be described as "Love plus a whole bunch of three-point shooting". Kevin is Options 1, 2, and 3. If he's still covered after the third move you must be double-teaming him at least. The 'Wolves find the open shooter and let fly. It's more of a hope than a plan, but when they're hot they can still burn you.
The Blazers will need to make Love work for his points but it's worth noting that the Timberwolves have still lost 3-5 when he's been on this tear. Just as crucial: don't let the other shooters get hot and police the glass. If the Blazers control the rebounds they'll control this game. They should also take advantage of Minnesota in transition wherever possible and not settle for a jump-shooting contest. Love playing the middle practically begs for lane driving. The Blazers should employ the Smuckers theory tonight: jam it 'til you can't jam no more. If J.J. Hickson were inclined to repeat his performance against the Clippers nobody would say him nay. If the Blazers go soft and lazy, trading perimeter shots with the 'Wolves, then Love will probably make the difference and they'll get what they deserve.
Canis Hoopus is your source for Minnesota news.
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