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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves Preview

The Blazers will try to get their first win in three tries against an upstart Timberwolves team.

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NBA: Orlando Magic at Minnesota Timberwolves Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (25-22) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (31-18)

Wednesday, January 24th - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: None
Timberwolves injuries: Jimmy Butler (doubtful), Jamal Crawford (questionable)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Canis Hoopus

Editor’s note: Butler has now been downgraded to doubtful.

The Blazers will look to bounce back from a tough loss to the Denver Nuggets as the Timberwolves come to town. Strong games from Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic against Denver couldn’t overcome poor shooting from Al-Farouq Aminu and CJ McCollum—the pair combined for a disastrous 5-24 from the field and 0-8 from three.

The Timberwolves are flying, winning seven of their last nine games. Last time out they disposed of the Los Angeles Clippers 126-118 in LA. Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns did much of the statistical damage, with Wiggins putting up a 40 spot and Towns pulling down 17 rebounds.

The Blazers trail in the season series 0-2. The first matchup was a heartbreaking loss for Portland, 108-107. The other game was an ugly 120-103 blowout just a week and a half ago. Portland will have home-court advantage against Minnesota for the first time this year though, which could help inspire them to victory.

What to watch for

  • The injury report. The Wolves could be at full-strength, or they could be without two of the biggest thorns in the side to the Blazers in Jimmy Butler and Jamal Crawford. Last time against the Blazers, Butler shot 63.6 percent from the field and 100 percent from 3-point land. When the teams played in December, Crawford shot 62.5 percent from the field and 100 percent from the free throw line. The Blazers could catch a break if one or both can’t suit up.
  • The Blazer defenseif they want to win. Minnesota is averaging 108.9 points per game, good for sixth highest in the NBA. Moreover, the last nine games they’ve averaged 114 points. It’s pretty obvious to beat the other team you need to score more than they do, but it will be a lot easier for the Blazers to do that by locking down the Timberwolves as much as possible on the defensive end rather than trying to just outscore them.
  • Can the Blazers make a difference at the 3-point line? The Blazers shoot a better percentage from the 3-point line than the Timberwolves, although the difference is small: 37.6 percent vs. 35.3 percent. Perhaps more importantly, the Blazers take 3.6 more attempts per game from beyond the arc. If Minnesota is on their game, Portland will need every point they can get. A good night from beyond the arc, both in terms of percentage and volume, could be the advantage the Blazers need against a very good Timberwolves team.

What they’re saying

If the Timberwolves have a weakness, it’s defense. But they are getting better according to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Mannix:

“It’s about the sense of urgency,” Gibson said. “Sometimes guys come into the game thinking the game is played hard mostly in the fourth quarter. But it’s a 48-minute game. We have been playing some good halves, then run out of gas in the third quarter or blow a lead late in the fourth. Guys have to understand that playoff time starts now. You have to fight for position, especially in the West.”

So what’s behind the turnaround? Jimmy Butler, for one. Team sources say Butler — the ’Wolves’ ballyhooed offseason acquisition — has taken on a more vocal role within the team in recent weeks, particularly on defense. Butler, one of the NBA’s best two-way players, has prodded Minnesota’s two franchise cornerstones, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, to commit to the same effort on both ends of the floor.

Charlie Johnson of Canis Hoopus writes about Marcus Georges-Hunt, one of the Timberwolves who is playing well above expectations:

Georges-Hunt had been an end-of-the-bench player for most of the season. Over the first 28 games he saw almost exclusively garbage time minutes. He appeared in nine of those first 28 matchups, seeing 1.7 minutes per and putting up virtually no counting stats.

But something changed after a December 14th blowout of the Sacramento Kings. In that game, Georges-Hunt cracked Thibs’ rotation. He played a hair under 17 minutes and went two for three from the floor, including one of two from beyond the arc. Including the game against the Kings, Georges-Hunt has appeared in 18 out of 23 possible matchups since then, averaging 6.4 minutes. He’s shooting respectably from both the floor (44%) and the three-point line (33%). More importantly, Georges-Hunt has been a key defensive cog for the Wolves bench unit in his limited minutes, and has helped them down the stretch in more than one game—none more prominent than Saturday’s shorthanded victory over the Toronto Raptors.

Who is the most talented player on the Timberwolves? Not Jimmy Butler, according to Jimmy Butler. He reveals who it is and much more in a wide-ranging interview by Jerry Zgoda of the Star and Tribune:

Q: You’re this team’s best player, Thibs calls you “MVP caliber.” Are you its most talented?

A: Who, me? Hell no, Wigs is. Wigs is the most talented by far. I see him do things and I’m like wow, like how? The crazy part is that was at 40 percent. Just think if you’re 80 percent or what if you just go as hard as you can, 100? Wigs is easily the most talented person on this team.