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Game 65 Preview: Blazers vs. Timberwolves

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Everybody beware!  Minnesota has matched their longest winning streak of the season!  For those who are counting, that's two.  They have a chance to break their ultra-modest record tonight against us.

I say this only halfway tongue-in-cheek.  On the one hand they're 14-48 and anyone approaching 50 losses with a month and a half left to play isn't what you'd call a bona fide threat.  On the other hand we do have to play these guys four times this year and it's hard to win all four against any team.  If the `Wolves are going to take one tonight--with them rested, prepared, and at home and us in the midst of a long travel spree having played last night--would be the likeliest candidate.  They're not good, but they have the chance of a Hillary, not a Huckabee.

The discussion of the Timberwolves this year pretty much starts and ends with Al Jefferson.  At 21 points and almost 12 boards a game he's their Mr. Everything.  Unfortunately he has no real running mate at center so it should be possible to put extra defensive pressure on him.  On the other hand that's the game plan of every team and, well, he's still averaging those 21 points and almost 12 rebounds.  Probably the best way to handle him is make him work hard on defense...not his specialty.

Point guard Sebastian Telfair is out with an ankle injury, which puts our old friend (and once draft pick) Randy Foye back at point guard.  Foye can score when he gets his mojo working.  He's been in double-figures in 4 of the last 5 games including dropping 26 on the Clippers in Minnesota's last outing.  On the other hand he's not the greatest playmaker (unless you count plays made for yourself) and his season shooting percentage is .413.  Rashad McCants has returned successfully from his injuries and is making his presence known with 15 points per game on 45% shooting.  Ryan Gomes has been scoring lately as well.

Scoring is important to the Timberwolves as they have only won 1 game all season with fewer than 100 points on the board (that being their last one...they scored 99 against the Clippers).  They need to score because they're not that good at defense.  They don't have even one good, experienced defender on the roster.  Instead they field guys like Antoine Walker, Michael Doleac, and Marko Jaric.  They give up 101 a game and are poor percentage defenders as well.  As you might expect they run horribly behind at the charity stripe which necessitates even more shots falling for them to keep up.  The one thing they do fairly well, mostly thanks to Jefferson, is offensive rebound.  They get extra shots and points that way and it will be an area of concern.

What I'd Like to See

  1.  I think this is pretty simple defensively.  You don't have to stop Jefferson.  You just have to keep him off of the offensive glass.  If Minnesota is one-and-done they're going to lose no matter who is shooting what.
  2.  Foye and McCants can both bomb but I fear that less than a parade down the lane.  My advice is to keep the `Wolves from driving and take your chances.
  3.  There won't be a ton of good passing on their side.  That means you can "D"-up aggressively on your man.  It also means you can keep half an eye on the passing lanes if you can manage it.
  4.  You can foul any of their big men with some success.  Don't let them post deep without retaliation, especially if it's close.
  5.  On offense this should theoretically be a breeze.  Pick your opponent and score.  However I think we play into their hands if we just hoist all night.  Who's going to block a shot in there?  Who's going to even move their feet much?  Exploit them like a drunkard at the used-car lot.
  6.  Hey, I have an idea.  How about some bench production?  Yeah, that would be nifty.
Basically if we play sloppy and stupid and just hand them the game they'll take it.  If we're motivated and play reasonably smart basketball we should walk away with this one in our pockets.  You ought to be able to tell by our points scored.  100 or above is great.  But if we tally in the 80's again...

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)