Portland Trail Blazers (17-4) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (4-16)
Wednesday, December 10
Target Center; Minneapolis, MN | 5:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: C.J. McCollum | Out for the Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio, Ronny Turiaf, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, Mo Williams (day-to-day)
SBN Affiliate: Canis Hoopus | Timmay's Viewing Guide | Blazer's Edge Night
The Blazers take on the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight in the second half of a back-to-back set of games.
The 'Wolves have lost six straight, hurting badly with a number of starters and key bench players recently out for extended time. Guards Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin, big man Ronny Turiaf and center Nikola Pekovic are all ruled out for tonight's game. Guard Mo Williams is listed as day-to-day, having missed the last three games with a back injury.
Minnesota coach Flip Saunders has two teenage rookies in his starting lineup, a backup shooting guard playing point guard and only one healthy center, Gorgui Dieng.
Portland played the Timberwolves a couple weeks ago at home, cruising to a routine victory after a slow start by dominating the boards and riding guard Wesley Matthews' hot three-point shooting.
Not surprisingly, Minnesota's offense does not function efficiently. Over the last five games, the 'Wolves are No. 29 in the NBA in both three-point shooting and overall field goal percentage, coming in at No. 25 in points scored per game. They're an average passing team, are not particularly prone to turnovers and get to the free throw line often. Considering how young the Timberwolves are, it should be no surprise that they get out on the fastbreak often.
Rookie wing Andrew Wiggins has led Minnesota in field goal attempts the last five games, creating most of his own offense. He splits his shots pretty evenly between the paint and the midrange, though he's not efficient from anywhere, shooting 35.8 percent overall the last several games. Wiggins won't shoot a lot of threes, but he should get to the line 4-5 times tonight.
Veteran power forward Thaddeus Young, 6-foot-8, has started the last five games and has gotten up about a dozen shots a night in that span. He shoots a decent amount of jumpers, a 42.9 percent shooter from the midrange recently. Young does his best work right at the rim, though, where he's hit 56.5 percent of his shots the last five outings.
Rookie point guard Zach LaVine -- who's started the last three games in place of Williams -- has gotten up 12 shots a night the last couple weeks, creating almost all of his own offense off the dribble. He drives to the rim for about a third of his attempts, where he's a great finisher, but his jumpshot is bad right now and he's even worse from deep, making just 25 percent of his threes the last five games. In 11 minutes against the Blazers a couple weeks ago, LaVine shot 0-for-3, but he'll get much more playing time tonight and is bound to shoot more.
Starting wing Corey Brewer, who has played a lot of point guard recently, gets to the rim often but hasn't finished well lately. His three-point shot has been off, too, as he's gone 23.1 percent from deep on 2.6 threes a game the last five. Dieng, starting at center, rarely shoots but has a decent touch inside when he does.
Reserve wing Shabazz Muhammad poured in 28 points against Portland five games back, and he's been pretty much the lone bright spot for the Timberwolves' offense lately, hitting 52.9 percent of his shots. He gets to the rim a ton and finishes well, occasionally drifting out to the midrange where he's an average shooter.
Saunders' bench rotation is predictably not very deep. Forwards Anthony Bennett and Chase Budinger haven't been able to score consistently lately. Robbie Hummel and Jeff Adrien, also forwards, have shot slightly better but don't get many shots up. Guard Glenn Robinson III is at the end of the rotation, not attempting many field goals and not converting well when he does.
Minnesota's defense is almost as bad as its offense, giving up a ton of points and a high field goal percentage. The 'Wolves have done a decent job of defending the three-point line the last five games, and they also force a lot of turnovers. They foul a lot, don't defend in transition well and allow a ton of points at the rim.
The Blazers have been a pretty average offense the last couple weeks, not putting up as many points as usual and not shooting very well from anywhere. They've survived with solid passing, not turning the ball over often and feasting on a string of fairly weak opponents since the loss to the Grizzlies on Nov. 28. Last night against the Pistons, Portland saw some improved shooting, though, going 48.8 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from outside.
The Blazers' defense has defended the three-point line well lately and not allowed a ton of points. Opponents have shot fairly well inside the arc, though, and the Blazers haven't prevented easy ball movement as well as they usually do. Still, they don't send opponents to the line a lot and they've won five straight and 14 of 15, so they're finding ways to win almost every night.
Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge again carried the team last night, scoring 23 points on 8-for-21 shooting and making 6-of-6 free throws. He's only gone to the hole for a third of his shots the last five games, but hasn't needed to, as he's shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 45.3 percent from the midrange.
Point guard Damian Lillard made 6-of-14 shots against the Pistons last night, and his three-point shooting struggles continued as he went 1-for-5 from outside. He'll be facing a lot of LaVine and Brewer tonight, however, so Lillard should be able to find open looks, even though he struggled from the field against Minnesota a couple weeks ago.
Matthews scored 19 points on 3-of-6 shooting from deep against Detroit, and is back to shooting pretty well. He torched the 'Wolves for 23 points last time the teams met. Forward Nicolas Batum didn't made a huge impact on the box score last night, pulling in just one assist and shooting 3-for-7 from the field. He didn't play well against the Timberwolves five games back, either, and his shooting touch just isn't there right now, so a big night from Batum may not be in the cards this time around.
Center Chris Kaman poured in 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting against the Pistons, a dozen of those points coming in the first half. This could be a good sign for the 32-year-old big man, as he's been in a shooting slump lately and the 'Wolves have no backup centers to speak of. Big man Robin Lopez had a bad outing against Minnesota last time the teams played, had a poor shooting night against Detroit and is in the midst of a rough stretch shooting the ball.
Backup guard Steve Blake has been his normal self lately, setting up the offense well even when his shots aren't going in. Guard Allen Crabbe made 4-of-5 field goals last night in 20 minutes and continues to be a nice complementary player for coach Terry Stotts off the bench. Joel Freeland got 11 minutes against Detroit but missed all three of his shots. Wing WIll Barton and forwards Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson and Meyers Leonard have all collected a handful of DNP-CDs the last several games, but may be called upon tonight as the Blazers are playing their second game in as many nights and have another back-to-back set looming at the end of the week.
The Timberwolves are a middle-of-the-pack rebounding team overall, doing their best work on the offensive glass and struggling on the defensive side at times. Dieng, Hummel, Adrien, Bennett and Muhammad are all pretty good individual rebounders. The Blazers are better at rebounding on both sides of the ball, and should feast on the offensive side of the boards in particular. Portland pulled in 15 rebounds against Minnesota the last time the two teams met, and won the overall rebounding battle handily, 54-43.
Tonight's game, like many recently, looks like a matchup heavily in favor of the Blazers. Don't underestimate Minnesota, though, because they're playing at home and are desperately looking for wins. The 'Wolves can play fast and loose, too, with nothing to lose at this point because of an injury-decimated roster. Expect them to come out and run against Portland, looking to tire out a Blazers team that is in the midst of a five-game road trip playing on the second night of a back-to-back.
If Portland can defend in transition and handle the boards as well as they did the last time these two teams met, the 'Wolves shouldn't pose much of a threat. That said, the Blazers allowed the Pistons to stick around late into the game last night, and if the shooting woes continue for Lillard, Batum and Lopez, Portland might need to see another big outing from Aldridge, when Stotts would probably prefer to rest his starters late in the game.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter
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