Minnesota Timberwolves (31-46) at Portland Trail Blazers (38-40)
April 6, 2017, 7:30 PST
Watch: TNT; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Jusuf Nurkic (out), Ed Davis (out), Festus Ezeli (out)
Timberwolves injuries: Nemanja Bjelica (out), Zach LaVine (out), Nikola Pekovic (out)
SBN Affiliate: Canis Hoopus
The Trail Blazers will begin their final four-game home stand of the season by hosting the Timberwolves tonight in the Moda Center. Coach Terry Stotts’ squad will be trying to avoid a three-game skid in hopes of maintaining their slight lead over Denver for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Minnesota will play the part of spoiler, already claiming a victory over Portland this week.
The Blazers are three games into Jusuf Nurkic’s injury absence, and the problems are becoming apparent for Portland. Lack of interior defense and rebounding have resulted in consecutive losses, and the Wolves have already proven they have the tools to capitalize on those weaknesses.
Ricky Rubio exploited the Blazers’ defense to the tune of 11 points and 16 assists in Minnesota’s victory on Monday. Portland was unable to limit his penetration, which opened up passing lanes for the Spanish guard all night. Expect the Timberwolves to stick to the same strategy, as both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have obvious limitations on defense.
Rubio wasn’t the only Minnesota player to record a double-double earlier this week, as Karl-Anthony Towns walked away with 34 points and 12 rebounds. Portland doesn’t have anyone who can match his talent on the interior, and that will be the case once again on Thursday.
With Meyers Leonard struggling in the starting lineup, Portland has tweaked its starting rotation, inserting Al-Farouq Aminu in his place. Expect the Blazers’ defensive specialist to continue playing a large part in Stotts’ game plan, as he is entering tonight on the heels of back-to-back 30-minute outings. Despite a sizable height disadvantage, Aminu has tallied four blocks in his last two games.
After consecutive 12-point outings, Noah Vonleh struggled mightily against Utah earlier this week. The 21-year-old has shown flashes of his potential over the last month, but he has to maintain some form of consistency over the next four games for the Blazers to stay competitive in the paint. Avoiding early foul trouble will be crucial for Vonleh’s confidence, and even more vital for Portland’s post rotation.
The Blazers will have the benefit of playing four consecutive games at home to close out the season, and it appears that they’ll need every advantage possible to cling to the final spot in the in the playoffs. With a roster already loaded with young talent, the Timberwolves won’t be too concerned with their lottery position, making this contest a dicey proposition for the Blazers.