Portland Trail Blazers (26-35) at Minnesota Timberwolves (25-37)
March 6, 2017, 5:00 PST
Watch: CSN NW; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Ed Davis (out), Evan Turner (out), Festus Ezeli (out)
Timberwolves injuries: Zach LaVine (out), Lance Stephenson (out), Adreian Payne (out), Nikola Pekovic (out)
SBN Affiliate: Canis Hoopus
The Trail Blazers head back out on the road after a successful home stand to face the young and talented Timberwolves. This is the second meeting between these Northwest Division foes, and both squads find themselves in the middle of a tight race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Seeking to extend their winning streak to three games, Portland will face a Minnesota team that is beginning to take shape under coach Tom Thibodeau. After a slow start to the season, the Timberwolves have managed to play .500 basketball over the last two months.
The Timberwolves have snuck into playoff contention despite Zach LaVine’s absence. The biggest beneficiary of LaVine’s injury has been Andrew Wiggins. The former No. 1 pick has taken on a larger role on the offensive end, and he has managed to put up 28.9 points per game over his last ten outings.
Brandon Rush has joined the starting unit, but has been largely ineffective. This has led to Thibodeau experimenting with new rotations, which includes an unlikely pairing of of Tyus Jones and Kris Dunn in the backcourt. Along with Ricky Rubio, the trio makes up a three-headed monster capable of forcing a ton of turnovers.
Jusuf Nurkic will face another supremely talented big man in tonight’s contest, as Karl-Anthony Towns is capable of single-handedly altering the outcome of a game. Towns struggled in Portland’s victory over Minnesota in their first meeting, connecting on only three of his 15 shots from the field. A repeat of those same struggles is unlikely, and Brook Lopez found success by coaxing Nurkic outside of the paint on Saturday. The former Kentucky big man is currently shooting above 30 percent from beyond the arc, which could force coach Terry Stotts into making some changes on defense.
Unlike the last meeting, Damian Lillard will be suited up tonight. The Lillard-less Blazers were carried by C.J. McCollum’s 43 points against the ‘Wolves, which proved to be too much to overcome for them to overcome. Crossing the 30-point threshold in three out of his last five games, Lillard is primed for another big performance in this one. Even if the former Weber State guard is struggling with his own shot, he is adept at finding the hot hand.
The race for the eighth seed is heating up, and the next two days will be crucial for Portland’s playoff chances. Tonight’s game is the first night of a back-to-back against divisional opponents for the Blazers, and the Timberwolves’ record suggests this is the easiest game of the two. Picking up a victory in Minnesota will help keep the momentum going, otherwise, Portland’s consistency issues will likely persist for the duration of the season.