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Game 58 Preview: Blazers vs. Timberwolves

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A Look at the Timberwolves 

OK, let's get something out of the way right off the bat.  The Timberwolves carry an 18-39 record into this game, but that isn't the worst baggage they're lugging.  The bad part of that 18-39 record is that it only includes 2 wins this month.  Granted, February is a short month, but 2 wins is a little shy of expectations for anybody.  It's like giving your sweetie a vacuum cleaner attachment for Valentine's day.  It's like turning in a doctoral thesis that was obviously plagiarized...from Fatty.  It's like sneaking behind the school steps to finally try your first cigarette and finding out...ewwww...it's a cigarette.

Now, to give the Timberwolves a little leeway we should say that this month's schedule has been brutal for them.  It has included games against Boston, Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans, Miami, Toronto (twice), the L*kers, and Utah.  Out of those 9 games against winning teams Minnesota won once.  They also won once against the 3 losing teams they played.  The lesson being that Portland should probably play like a winning team tonight.

7 of their 12 games so far this month have been on the road.  They have not won any of their 5 games at home.

Why are the ‘Wolves suffering so?  Take your pick of reasons.  The most glaring is probably their defense.  By every measure save one they are a poor defensive squad.  They're 26th in the league in field goal percentage allowed, 21st in three-point percentage allowed, 23rd in free throw attempts allowed, 27th in steals, 26th in turnovers forced, 26th in blocks, and 25th in assists allowed.  They're not stopping anything.  They're firmly ensconced with the Knicks, Wizards, Warriors, and Kings as far as defensive effectiveness which is kind of like saying you're lined up in the beauty pageant between the janitor and Phyllis Diller. 

Neither can the ‘Wolves claim a sterling offense.  They shoot a lot of shots early in the clock by design, trying to push the tempo.  The problem is they miss most of them.  They're not good three-point shooters and they don't draw enough fouls given their style of play and the number of shots they attempt.  They don't pass the ball or set up good looks.  They're the worst team in the league getting their shots blocked, due in part to the quality of attempt and their lack of adeptness at moving the defense but also to their lack of size at multiple positions.

Minnesota's saving grace on both ends of the court (OK, "saving" is the wrong word since it's not keeping them from getting brutalized on a nightly basis...say rather "the aspect of their game that's keeping them from being an irredeemable doormat") is their rebounding.  They're in the top echelon of the league in offensive and defensive rebounding alike.  Everybody in their frontcourt is dangerous that way.

Fortunately for the Blazers the ‘Wolves have been without star forward Al Jefferson for a while, another key reason for their downfall.  They're starting a frontcourt of Kevin Love, Ryan Gomes, and Mike Miller.  All of them score, all of them rebound, and Miller is having a career-type year all-around.  They couple that trio with a completely spastic, shooting-oriented backcourt of Sebastian Telfair and Randy Foye.  Both were projected point guards who turned into small shooting guards and now are drifting in limbo, sometimes displaying distributing skills, sometimes lighting up the scoreboard, mostly letting guys drive by them and flinging improbable shots when the mood strikes them.  After that we're talking former King Bobby Brown, Rodney Carney, Kevin Ollie, Craig Smith... These guys win you barroom trivia bets, not ballgames.

Could Portland lose tonight?  Of course.  If they come without energy or drive, if they let Minnesota gain confidence and rebounding advantage in equal measure, if one of the ‘Wolves guards goes off on a scoring spree.  It could happen.  But it had better not.

Keys to the Game

1.  One thing above all else:  do not let the ‘Wolves get extra points off of offensive rebounds.  You don't have to worry about their defensive rebounding prowess because you're probably going to make a lot of your shots.  But they're going to miss theirs and they're good at getting them back.  Limit them to one shot, however, and they're toast.

2.  Keep the ball in the hands of Minnesota's backcourt and dare them to score.  Just back up and get Telfair and Foye to shoot it over you until they prove they can make those shots for more than a quarter.  Any shot that doesn't come from their interior players is a shot that helps you win.

3.  You do have to recover on a couple of their frontcourt guys:  Miller and Gomes.  If you leave them alone they'll make the three.

4.  Do not make the Minnesota defense look better than it is!  They won't block your shots.  They won't rotate quickly in the lane or recover outside after they do rotate.  Look at the names on those jerseys and ask yourself how many of them are in the top half, let alone the top third, of the league at their positions defensively.  You can get a lot of different shots but you should get the best ones you can.  Attack, drive, get in the lane, finish if you're single-covered, find the wide-open guy if they help.  This defense should be tailor-made for Portland's offense.  Please do not just stand there and fire jumpers tonight.  Don't stoop down to their level of production.

5.  In short, play with intensity.

Final Thoughts

For this first time this season I am going to take no joy in watching a game no matter what happens.  We've used up our losses on this trip already with a couple of inconsistent performances.  This game has GOT to be better.  If it's not, something is wrong.  We had better win this game.  No praise, no cookies, no pat on the head...this is a game we should win and that's that.  If we don't it'll be the most discouraging loss of the season.  If we do, well, that's what should have happened.  Now pack up and get ready for San Antonio.  Had we won the last two and this would cap a 3-0 trip I'd be far more excited.  As it is, this is all business.

Check out what the Minnesota folks are saying at CanisHoopus. 

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest here.  It's the final game of the month so somebody will win a jersey tonight!

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)