Portland Trail Blazers (38-38) at Minnesota Timberwolves (30-45)
April 3, 2017, 4:00 PST
Watch: CSN NW; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Jusuf Nurkić (out), Ed Davis (out), Festus Ezeli (out)
Timberwolves injuries: Nemanja Bjelica (out), Zach Lavine (out)
SBN Affiliate: Canis Hoopus
After surviving their first game without starting center Jusuf Nurkić, a 130-117 victory over the Phoenix Suns, The Portland Trail Blazers head to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves for their second of three meetings in a two-week span.
Minnesota, after starting the month strong, went 6-8 in March and was officially eliminated from playoff contention over the weekend. Despite their disappointing season, the future continues to be bright for Tom Thibodeau’s Wolves, with 21-year-old cornerstones Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach Lavine, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.
In Portland’s easy 112-100 victory over Minnesota last week, CJ McCollum continued his usual torrid shooting against the Wolves, dropping 32 points on only 13 shots. While the Wolves clawed back and made the final score respectable, this game was never in any doubt.
Two interesting developments from this matchup were Portland’s bench production and their defense on Towns. The reserves erupted for 38 points, with no one player scoring more than 10. While having a backup like Crabbe or Turner go off for 18 is always welcome, that kind of balance is something that Portland has seen little of this season.
The most interesting factor in Portland’s victory was how Stotts chose to defend Towns. Prior to the game, many Blazer fans were wondering how Nurkić would do against him and his ability to step out on the perimeter and draw fouls down low. The answer? Have Nurkić guard Gorgui Dieng and stick Noah Vonleh on Towns. While Vonleh did very little on the offensive end, shooting the ball one time and scoring three points, he made life difficult for Towns for the majority of his 23 minutes, holding him to 16 points and five rebounds.
Of course, the big difference tonight is that Portland will be without Nurkić, and will be starting Meyers Leonard in his place. Don’t be surprised to see Stotts go with Vonleh again, at least to start the game. With the Blazers having no other big men on the roster, Leonard will have to take his turn on Towns as well, likely in conjunction with Al-Farouq Aminu playing the power forward.
For Minnesota, Ricky Rubio has been on fire from the floor (relatively speaking) lately. The career 37 percent shooter nailed 45 percent of his attempts from the floor in March, along with 41 percent from the 3-point line. Thibodeau has to be thrilled with this recent development, as it looked at the beginning of the season that Rubio was on his way out of Minnesota to make room for the struggling Kris Dunn.
With the Wolves officially eliminated from the playoffs, it’s unclear if they’ll be using the end of their regular season to “develop” young players such as Dunn. Portland, despite leading the season series 2-0, can’t afford to take the Wolves lightly. Though they got a bad break with the Nurkić news, the games don’t stop and it’s next man up for the Blazers who hope to extend their winning streak to a season-high seven games and 14 of their last 17. Despite the feeling of deflation that came with Nurkić’s injury, it will be interesting to see how much of the team’s improved play can be sustained without him.