Game Time: 5:00 Pacific TV: Comcast
Normally a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves (with all due respect, leaving up to you how much exactly that is) would elicit more shrugs than vigor. They're 14-46, 9-20 at home, own a -8.5 point differential, all of which are second-lowest in the league. Poor Minnesota. They can't even claim the dubious title of Suckiest Team in all Suckydom because they showed up with a brand new Hoover and the Nets showed up with a 28 A.U. diameter black hole. But what are the ‘Wolves going to do with John Wall anyway? They already have dashing 50's Boy Scout hero Jonny Flynn, suave dancer Ricky Rubio (arrival T.B.A.), and cool cat Ramon Sessions lined up at point guard. Even winning the lottery would be a mixed blessing. This is bad.
Despite the woes of the opponent this game is critically placed for the Blazers. In the obvious sense every game counts for something at this time of year with the standings being tight for so many teams near the bottom of the playoff hunt, even more so with the Chicago loss. You cannot lose to the ‘Wolves and still talk with a straight face about ramping up to playoff intensity. In the less obvious sense this is a game against a conference opponent. After head-to-head record that's the next tiebreaker in the seeding scenarios. You never know when that might come in handy. This game also typifies the kind of contest Portland will need to prevail in if they are to make the post-season. The single, easiest way to preserve or promote Portland's position is to win games against weaker teams on the road. The Blazers have a few of them down the stretch.
So what's the secret to beating the Timberwolves? Mostly keeping an eye on their big forwards. Al Jefferson is a legitimate scorer. Both he and Kevin Love (whom the Blazers have yet to see this year, I believe) can be monstrous on the offensive boards. You have to respect them and work hard against them, making them fight for their initial looks and keeping them off the glass. That's the single most important factor. Also note that the Blazers should be able to settle into their familiar lane-packing defense tonight. The Minnesota wings probably can't beat you with jump shots alone. Plus the team doesn't pass well. Whoever catches the ball in scoring position is probably going to shoot it, so just collapse on them. On the other end, realize that the defense is porous, the shot-blocking non-existent, and the urge to stay in games that run away from them brief. As against Chicago the Blazers should be running every chance they get, especially since the ‘Wolves will turn the ball over under pressure. Failing that a direct approach is best. Drive it past them either straight up, off of switches, or via the pass and cut that the Blazers have been exploring a little more in the last week. There's no reason to settle for any bad shot tonight. Take your pick of Blazers who could damage them: Roy and Aldridge in the usual ways, Miller and Bayless off of the drive, Rudy, Martell, and Nic off of the bail-out pass...it'll all work if you strain the initial defense at all.
With a little effort and focus this should be a routine win. If Portland lets the game get into the fourth quarter they probably aren't playing right.
Check out the proceedings over at CanisHoopus.
And enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.