Minnesota Timberwolves (4-10) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (12-4)
Sunday, November 30
Moda Center; Portland, OR | 6:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: Damian Lillard (probable, flu) | Out for the Timberwolves: Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio, Ronny Turiaf
SBN Affiliate: Canis Hoopus | Timmay's Viewing Guide | BE's 2014-15 Timberwolves Season Preview | Blazer's Edge Night
The Blazers host the banged-up Minnesota Timberwolves tonight at the Moda Center after losing at home Friday night to the Grizzlies.
The 'Wolves are missing point guard Ricky Rubio, wing Kevin Martin and big men Ronny Turiaf and Nikola Pekovic -- though that didn't stop them from defeating the hapless Lakers on Friday night in Los Angeles.
Over the last five games, Minnesota has averaged almost 103 points per game, picking up a ton of assists, fast break points and free throw opportunities while shooting well from outside. As a team, the 'Wolves have been middle-of-the-pack shooting from inside the arc lately and have had issues turning the ball over at times.
Minnesota has relied heavily on former Trail Blazer Mo Williams, who's averaged 16.3 points on 46.2 percent shooting from the field and a staggering 47.8 percent from deep the last five games. He's barely ventured into the lane to score, instead relying on a solid midrange jumper and a remarkably reliable three-point shot. Half of Williams' field goals are unassisted and 45.5 percent of his threes are, so expect to see him shoot off the dribble often tonight. He's also been racking up assists with Rubio and Martin out, averaging 10 a game over the last five. Against the Lakers Friday, Williams shot 8-of-13 from the floor and 6-of-8 from deep for 25 points.
Rookie wing Andrew Wiggins had a quiet night in Los Angeles, but has gotten up over 13 shots a game the last couple weeks. He's struggled with his shot, hitting just a third of his field goal attempts. Wiggins' midrange jumper -- one of his favorite shots -- hasn't fallen lately, and he's about average at finishing at the rim. He doesn't take a ton of threes, but he's 38.5 percent from outside since Nov. 19.
Starting power forward Thaddeus Young, the team-leader in minutes per game this season, sat out a few games last week but came back Wednesday against the Bucks and had a big outing Friday against the Lakers, hitting eight of his 13 shots for 22 points. On the season, Young's been an average finisher inside but has struggled with his jumpshot. He has a good three-point shooting average on the season but only attempts them when the defense gives him that shot.
Wing Corey Brewer loves to take the ball to the basket, where he's a good finisher. He's tallied a third of his points on fastbreaks the last couple weeks. When not taking it to the rim, though, Brewer has trouble scoring. Forward Anthony Bennett, on the other hand, shoots about a third of shots from the midrange and makes half of them. Most of his scores are assisted, so the Blazers need to keep an eye on Bennett in catch-and-shoot situations.
Starting center Gorgui Dieng isn't entirely a non-factor offensively, but rarely looks for his own shot. Backup forward Shabazz Muhammad and guard Zach LaVine should see plenty of minutes tonight. Muhammad gets into the paint often, where he's a decent finisher. LaVine is coming off an 11-for-14, 28-point performance in Los Angeles Friday. He's been a good three-point shooter the last several games, but prefers to spread his shots out within the arc, scoring over half his points off the dribble.
Minnesota coach Flip Saunders also plays forwards Robbie Hummel and Chase Budinger in his rotation, but neither is particularly aggressive offensively. The Timberwolves signed forward Jeff Adrien yesterday, but he may not be available to play and if he is, probably won't receive more than a handful of minutes.
Though the 'Wolves offense hasn't been that bad all-around lately, the defense has been pretty terrible. They've given up fewer than 113 points just once the last eight games, a 103-86 loss to the Bucks on Wednesday. Minnesota allows easy ball movement, 51 percent shooting from the floor the last couple weeks and 43 percent from three-point range in that time. They don't get back and defend in transition well and have gotten hammered in the paint this year. Like many young teams, the 'Wolves register a lot of steals but that's not necessarily a sign of a good defense -- only about three of the top-10 teams in steals the last five games are considered locks for the playoffs this year.
The Blazers come into tonight's matchup stinging from a 112-99 loss to the Grizzlies at home Friday night that ended their nine-game win streak.
Point guard Damian Lillard was cold from outside against Memphis, ending the night 1-for-6 from deep but hitting 7-of-16 field goals for 20 points. Otherwise, his three-point shooting has been sharp lately and he's hit his jumpers well, struggling mostly to score at the rim. Guard Wesley Matthews lit up the Grizzlies for 26 points on 9-for-16 shooting from the field while going 7-for-12 from outside, and he's been the most efficient scorer for Portland the last several games.
Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge continued his shooting struggles Friday night, needing 19 shots to get to 19 points, consistent with his field goal shooting percentage of 39.6 the last five games. Saunders can throw Bennett and Young at Aldridge, but at 6-foot-8 a piece, they'll be physically overmatched. If the 'Wolves elect to put the 6-foot-11 Dieng on Aldridge, that'll leave the door open for Blazers centers Robin Lopez and Chris Kaman, both of whom have been able to score fairly consistently lately. Don't be surprised to see Minnesota doubling Aldridge, as they really have no player who can guard him one-on-one for most of the game.
Small forward Nicolas Batum still hasn't seemed to get his shot back on track since missing a handful of games recently, putting up an 0-fer Friday night from deep while hitting just three of his 11 field goal attempts. His assists are down, too. Backup point guard Steve Blake has been able to pass well, even in the midst of a tough stretch of shooting. Wing Allen Crabbe had a rough outing against Memphis, but has been somewhat reliable in limited attempts within the arc while struggling to hit threes with consistency. Will Barton may get some time at the wing with the reserves, and big man Joel Freeland should see about a dozen minutes, his offensive efforts solid but not always showing up in the box score.
The Blazers are top-10 offensively the last five games in average points scored, assists and three-point shooting percentage. Their overall field goal percentage isn't eye-popping, and they don't score on fastbreaks often or get a ton of points inside. Much of their offense comes off Aldridge jumpers and three-pointers from his teammates, and when both of those factors aren't clicking like Friday night, Portland has a difficult time manufacturing enough offense to win -- though the Blazers have been able to turn it on when it matters several times so far this season. A team like the 'Wolves shouldn't present too much of an obstacle for Portland's players to find good looks against.
The Blazers' defense has held opponents' point totals fairly low the last five games, but they also feasted on the Hornets, Sixers and Celtics in that span, as the Grizzlies hung 112 on them Friday night while scoring 56 points in the paint and picking up 28 assists. Minnesota doesn't have a star player to put up a lot of points consistently, but the 'Wolves have a decent mix of youth and a few solid veterans who can do damage if left unchecked. Portland will also have to watch its transition defense, because the Timberwolves -- specifically Brewer, Muhammad and LaVine -- like to get out and run when possible.
The Blazers have been tied for best rebounding team in the NBA the last five games, while Minnesota is dead-last in that span. Dieng is solid individually, while the rest of the 'Wolves struggle on the defensive side of the glass and play well on the offensive end. Portland will have to continue its strong play on the defensive boards to prevent Minnesota from picking up easy second-chance points. The Blazers should be able to snare plenty of their own offensive rebounds, as the 'Wolves typically give up plenty.
After a tough loss Friday night, playing at home against Minnesota might be the opportunity Portland needs to get a solid win in before playing six of its next seven and 10 of its next 13 games on the road. The 'Wolves can't be overlooked, though, as they're riding high off a win against the Lakers. That said, the Blazers have won five straight at home against Minnesota dating back to April 2012 and are 39-11 all-time against them in Portland.
If the Blazers get their usual contributions and also a bounce-back game from either Aldridge or Batum, they should be able to cruise to victory against Minnesota tonight. If not, the 'Wolves are hungry and will be looking for their first two back-to-back wins of the season.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter
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