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Game 70 Preview: Blazers vs. Timberwolves

A Look at the Wolves

One of the signs we're getting marginally better is the renewal/inauguration of rivalries with a few other teams.  The last couple years we've been far too low on the food chain to have any.  (A guinea pig trash talking a leopard is more comic than inspiring.)  This year we've gone at it with Golden State, exchanged words with the Wizards, and the long-lost Lakers bonfire sprang to new life.  But the one that started it all and still appears to be burning from our end is the rivalry against the Timberwolves.  Ricky Davis' "roaches" comment spurred us out of complacency and showed us how to play with heart and passion.  Every time we flare up I still see shadows of that game.  And today the roaches invade Target Center.

We're 2-1 against the `Wolves so far and the stats say we shouldn't be.   They've out-rebounded us, out-passed us, shot 48% from the field and 38% from three-point range...maybe we shouldn't have won a game.  But when the final buzzer sounds we seem to have a few more points than they do.

One thing's for ain't Kevin Garnett's fault.  This guy has had another dream season and we haven't done anything to contain him.  He's averaging 24 points, 10 boards, 4 assists, and 2.5 blocks against us.  He's a nightmare.  The aforementioned Ricky Davis has also played big against us.  He's shooting 53% in those three games and believe me, he doesn't always do that.  Against everyone else he's the least-dependable volume scorer in the league.  He seems to save something special for the Blazers though.  Even one-good-game-in-five point guard Mike James has made time against us.  He's shooting 50% as well.  Between them, however, these three are averaging about 69 points.  The rest of the team combined hasn't even gotten half that.  In fact the production fall-off is so steep that other than a couple of guys making hay with the rebounds there's barely a significant stat to be cited.  Minnesota clearly fields the best player on the floor but they just don't have enough horses to finish the race.

Other than Garnett's enormous presence and an occasional sterling rebounding efforts, the Timberwolves aren't excellent or awful at anything.  They turn the ball over a little too much and let the opponent have too many possessions.  They shoot reasonably well and are good at the free throw line.  But they can't seem to put enough great qualities together to win consistently.  Their biggest problem by far is that outside of KG their production is up and down wildly.  Everyone from Davis to rookie Randy Foye is all-star one day, non-existent the next.  In a league that values steady poker or blackjack-like strategy and production these guys are the roulette wheel.  Unless they're playing a consistently great team it's pretty hard to predict what's going to happen in any give game, other than Garnett putting up amazing stats and their lack of cohesiveness perhaps scuttling that into a loss.  If you come in soft they will club you but if you put up any kind of fight they're just as likely to beat themselves.

What I'd Like To See:

  1.  If you hold Garnett and Davis to their normal production you have a good chance of winning.  I'd like to see those other guys try and beat us.  It's not like they can't, but the odds go WAY up in our favor if that's how they're playing.
  2.  I'm pretty comfortable saying if you don't give Minnesota easy buckets they're going to have a hard time staying with you.  Basically don't be stupid and don't be lazy.  They'll do enough of that for both teams.
  3.  This will be an interesting game for Lamarcus.  I don't know that he'll be matched up on KG consistently but I bet he'll at least get a try.  And I bet KG will also try to smack him down.  I want to see how he responds.  Obviously we hope it's with the type of controlled excellence he's shown in his best games.  This may be a test for him.
  4.  Go hard at all of their non-Hassell guards.  Ricky Davis, Randy Foye, Mike James, Rashad McCants, Troy Hudson, and Marko Jaric should have big signs on them that say, "Please drive on me."  KG will be inside to try and clean up but that's why God invented dishing.
  5.  Defensive rebounds should be big in this one.  Whoever keeps the opponent off of the offensive glass will have an edge.
Zach's return puts an interesting dynamic into this game.  I bet our chemistry is more strained immediately, not because he's a bad influence but because his presence changes the center of gravity on the team so much.  If I had to guess I'd say we were likely to lose, but then that Minnesota randomness may come into play.

--Dave (