Players and coaches who leave the Portland Trail Blazers seem to travel in packs, and right now, a common landing destination is the Minnesota Timberwolves. Shabazz Napier, Noah Vonleh and Jake Layman all left the Pacific Northwest within the last two years and wound up in Minnesota. And don’t forget about David Vanterpool, who accepted a coaching position there this past summer as well.
So, on Dec. 21 at 7:00 p.m. PST, the group of former Blazers will take on the current Blazers at the Moda Center. The current Portland roster includes Anthony Tolliver, who reversed the path of Napier, Vonleh and Layman by leaving the Timberwolves this summer and heading West. Dec. 21 marks the first time these two division rivals meet in the 2019-20 season.
Although there should be extra cheers for the trio of returning Timberwolves, the headline matchup is, of course, Karl Anthony Towns versus Damian Lillard. The two won’t defend each other but will indirectly duel on the offensive end. Towns and Lillard rank seventh and eighth in the league in points per game, respectively.
Hassan Whiteside has the difficult task of guarding Towns. The Minnesota big man can do it all: he’s making 41.8% of his 8.5 three-point attempts and doling out 4.4 assists per game. Whiteside defends the interior well – averaging 2.4 blocks per contest, fourth best in the league – but might struggle sticking with Towns on the perimeter.
On the flip side, one of Jarrett Culver or Josh Okogie will match up against Lillard. Both young players have shown a prowess on that end of the floor, but few players can contain Lillard’s shooting and explosion off the dribble. Last season, the All-Star point guard only averaged 19.3 points and seven across four games against the Timberwolves, but Portland won three of the four.
Both teams are in desperate need of a winning streak to turn the season around. Most expected Portland to cruise into the postseason and few expected Minnesota to, but both find themselves in a similar spot: outside the playoff picture and looking in.
The Blazers’ current four-game home stand offers a great opportunity to string together a few victories; the combined record of their four opponents is 33-73 (.452). However, the team will be on the second of a back-to-back on Dec. 21; the night prior, they face the Orlando Magic.
The Timberwolves have lost all seven of their December games as of Dec. 16. They too will be on the second of a back-to-back, facing the Nuggets in Denver the night before.
To see which team wants it more live and in person, buy tickets from StubHub here. Portland’s players are confident they can bounce back and save the season, and the home stand between Dec. 18 and Dec. 23 provides a chance for them to do just that. Make sure you don’t miss it!
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