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Game 55 Preview: Trail Blazers vs. Timberwolves

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Game Time:  5:00 p.m. Pacific  TV:  CSNNW

Ahhhh...the Timberwolves.  This will be the fourth time these two teams have met in the last two months.  The other three were Portland victories.  With Minnesota resting at 13-41, 9-17 at home, 0-11 against the Northwest Division, a sweep isn't a far-fetched prospect.  Teams don't like to lose that fourth game.  The Blazers played last night and have been running their starters heavy minutes.  Those are the bright spot for the 'Wolves.  For Portland this game is kind of like playing spin the bottle with the entire Dallas Cowboy cheerleader squad and Rosie O'Donnell.  Chances are decent this will turn out well but if it doesn't, it's sort of a disaster for many reasons.

When fielding a bad roster some coaches like to go the Mike Fratello/Nate-McMillan-circa-2006 route, lowering the number of total shots in the game to keep the margin as low as possible, giving yourself a chance to get hot and win at the end.  The Timberwolves go the opposite direction.  They disguise their horrible field goal shooting, lack of interior play, and paucity of easy fast break buckets by simply chucking up as many shots as possible, rebounding, and doing it again.  They're #1 in the league in pace, #1 in field goals attempted, and #1 in offensive rebounding percentage.  But they're 28th in shooting percentage and 23rd in offensive efficiency.  They turn the ball over more than anybody in the league.  In short, they work hard for their 102.6 ppg, not in the traditional blue-collar, paint-ethic tradition but in the "YMCA League/my arms are sure tired from shooting this much" sense.

Alas, they don't expend that much energy on defense.  They allow an astounding 108.4 ppg average.  They allow teams to run.  They're moderately better defending the paint but not much.  They don't stop the three.  They give up free throws.  It's like a smorgasbord of scoring for the opponent.  Only Golden State, Toronto, and Cleveland have worse defensive efficiency ratings.

A quick scan down the roster makes the stats nearly self-evident.  Kevin Love?  Scorer, extraordinary offensive rebounder, not scary on defense.  Michael Beasley (ankle problems in tow and having missed the last three games)?  Scorer, not scary on defense.  Luke Ridnour?  Passer, shooter, not scary on defense.  Martell Webster?  Could be scary on defense, always injured.  Darko Milicic?  Sebastian Telfair?  Jonny Flynn?  I mean, you have to turn your eyes away at some point.  You could meld the defensive skills of all of those guys (outside of Webster maybe) and still not come up with an NBA-quality defender.

The Blazers have played plenty of teams like this recently.  The M.O. has been to hang tight through three and punish in the fourth, using copious doses of LaMarcus Aldridge, Andre Miller, and whichever of Nicolas Batum or Wesley Matthews happens to be hot that night.  It should work as long as Beasley doesn't play (or as long as the Blazers can contain him).  The 'Wolves can't get away with anything less than multi-platinum performances from their two best scorers plus one heck of a lackadaisical Portland offensive attack.  Neither of those things is likely to happen.  If Portland plays any kind of coherent offense this game is in the bag.  Failing that, if the Blazers play decent offense and halfway-decent defense this game is in the bag.  Failing that, if the Blazers can just control the boards this game is in the bag.  Only a complete collapse will lead to any other result.

Canis Hoopus will have a more hopeful look at the Timberwolves.

Tonight's Jersey Contest form

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)