Portland Trail Blazers (14-21) at Minnesota Timberwolves (11-22)
Jan. 1, 2017, 4:00 PST
Watch: CSN NW; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Damian Lillard (doubtful), Festus Ezeli (out)
Timberwolves injuries: Nikola Pekovic (out)
SBN Affiliate: Canis Hoopus
The Trail Blazers will start the new year by meeting a familiar foe in the Timberwolves. This is the first meeting between these Northwest Division cellar-dwellers, and both teams will be looking to turn things around the second half of the season. Portland has been on a horrific slide, winning only two games in their last 10 outings. Meanwhile, the ‘Wolves have been able to play .500 basketball in their last 10 contests, giving them a glimmer of hope in the chase for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Coach Tom Thibodeau’s first season in Minnesota hasn’t gone as smoothly as many pundits predicted in the preseason. Led by a group of talented youngsters, they’ve struggled to take the next step on defense. The Timberwolves are ranked No. 28 when it comes to giving up points in the paint, which translates to the third-friendliest opponent field goal percentage in the NBA. Those are hardly traits of a typical Thibodeau team.
Outside of growing pains defensively, Karl-Anthony Towns has recorded some amazing numbers in losing efforts. The second-year big man has crossed the 40-point threshold twice this season, but the Timberwolves failed to record a victory in both performances.
Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins make up the wing portion of Minnesota’s gifted trio. Both players have an abundance of potential, but have struggled to continue their progression. Wiggins should be thriving on defense, but his current steals per game average is below his career number. LaVine is still turnover-prone, despite being relieved of major point guard duties.
A short-handed Trail Blazers team will have an uphill climb when it comes to matching the offensive talents that the Timberwolves possess. Damian Lillard is once again listed as doubtful, meaning that CJ McCollum will likely shoulder the load in the scoring department. The former Lehigh guard is averaging 26 points per game in Lillard’s absence, so he is perfectly capable of keeping Portland in this one.
The Timberwolves’ offense thrives at punishing opponents’ mistakes. Minnesota is the No. 6 ranked team in scoring points off turnovers and they come in at No. 3 in second chance points. Proper positioning and ball control should be highlighted in coach Terry Stotts’ preparation for this evening’s game.
It is a new year, and the Trail Blazers are in desperate need of a turnaround. Starting that process with a victory on the road against a divisional opponent would be an excellent way to build momentum.
Blazer’s Edge Night 2017
Want to assist us in sending 2,000+ underprivileged Portland-area kids to a Trail Blazers game this spring? Check out Blazer’s Edge Night 2017 for information on how to get involved, and help spread the word!