On Saturday, December 15th the Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Dallas Mavericks 114-106 in overtime, notching their fourth win in a row, pushing their record to 12-9. They were in the midst of an intermittent comeback by power forward Kevin Love who had been injured on and off during the season. This coincided with injuries to point guard Ricky Rubio and shooting guard Brandon Roy. But with Love on the mend, playing in most games, and the return of the guards in sight, 'Wolves fans had reason to smile. The Dallas win, the streak...things were looking up.
Since then the Timberwolves have amassed a 6-17 record, salting single wins among long losing jags. Love has gone down again. Roy has not returned. Rubio is back but it's not making a difference. They're hurting right now in every sense of the word.
When the 'Wolves are good they score free and easy. 8 of their 11 victories in the last two months have come from 100+ point efforts. They can't get their most nights though. They're lacking firepower. They've posted the leading scorer in a game just four times since that Dallas victory. Rubio, Andrei Kirilenko, Nikola Pekovic...these guys have talent but none of them is close to being a #1 option. If anybody in the supporting cast climbs above a dozen points it's a good night for them. Nobody can hit a three to free up the middle. (Power forward Derrick Williams holds their best distance percentage at 35%. As a team they're the worst in the league.) Nobody draws fouls now that Love is down. Pekovic is a decent rebounder and Kirilenko is great for his position but Love's injury tore the heart out of their glass dominance too. They're not good on the break, not great in the paint either. No matter how you shuffle the players together you come out with the same hand: nice guys, team players, decent skills, but overmatched.
The 'Wolves also suffer from a general lack of guard defense. Their most talented backcourt players are also their softest. They allow points on the break, three-pointers...they don't lack speed as much as any kind of intimidation factor. If they can't turn you over or stall you in the paint with their athletic frontcourt they're going to give up a good look.
So what do the Blazers need tonight? Mostly energy. The Timberwolves will play hard, especially those forwards and centers. Pekovic is a legitimate threat to Portland's lineup. Guys like Alexey Shved and J.J. Barea could do damage in the absence of Wesley Matthews. If the 'Wolves get a head of steam going on the boards and on the run they could score enough to wrest this game away. But if the Blazers work for good shots, make the Timberwolves shoot outside, get back in transition, protect the ball--all the basic things to keep momentum under control--this should go down as a Portland victory. The 'Wolves have more injuries, less talent, and fewer ways to score. It'll be up to the Blazers to make that stick.
The game begins at 5:00 p.m. local time and will be televised on CSNNW.
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