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Portland Trail Blazers at Minnesota Timberwolves Preview

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The Blazers try to close the road trip on a high note with a win against the Timberwolves.

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (48-28) at Minnesota Timberwolves (34-42)

Monday, April 1st - 5:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: CJ McCollum (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out)
Timberwolves injuries: Taj Gibson (questionable), Mitch Creek (questionable), Luol Deng (out), Robert Covington (out), Jeff Teague (out), Derrick Rose (out),
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
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Canis Hoopus

After rattling off six wins in a row, the Portland Trail Blazers came back to earth with an ugly 99-90 loss to the Detroit Pistons who were playing without Blake Griffin. The excuses are ready made: injuries, second game of a back-to-back and being on a long road trip. Still, the Blazers will do well to put the Pistons game in the rear view mirror as soon as possible. A trip to Minneapolis gives Portland the opportunity to do just that.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are officially eliminated from playoff contention, but with 34 wins in the bank there isn’t much point in tanking either. While the Timberwolves have lost a lot of games this year — as well as a lot of players to injury — they still have two potent stars in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. If the Blazers are tempted to think this game is going to be easy, they only have to look at Minnesota’s victory over the Golden State Warriors last Friday.

What to watch for

  • Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns is the leading scorer and rebounder for the Timberwolves by a large margin. Keeping him below his season averages of 24.5 points and 12.5 rebounds will go a long way towards a Blazers victory. Towns might have some extra motivation though after a poor shooting night last time out against Jimmy Butler and the Philadelphia 76ers.
  • Can the Blazers hit some threes? Portland is 13-for-53 from deep over the last two games for an abysmal 24.5%. What’s worse, over half of the makes were made by Damian Lillard. Take Lillard out of the equation and the Blazers shot 17.1% over those games. Many of those misses were wide, wide open, too. This simply can’t happen again if the Blazers want to be sure of a win.
  • Keeping the Timberwolves off the offensive glass. As you might expect, Minnesota doesn’t look so great when you look at the season statistics. One area where they really stand out though is offensive rebounds. The Blazers and Timberwolves are actually tied for third place in the NBA with 11.6 offensive boards per game. If Minnesota out-hustles and out-works the Blazers after they miss, it could be a long night for Portland.

What they’re saying

Andrew Neururer of Dunking With Wolves takes a look at Andrew Wiggins’ development this year:

There are many good things to say about the dominant Towns, of course,, but Minnesota’s future outlook (still) largely hinges on the development of Wiggins. This season, he’s averaging 17.7 points, 4.8 points, 2.4 assists and 1.0 steals per game — numbers that aren’t all that different from last season, including an identical scoring average.

The Timberwolves are officially eliminated from the playoffs and have been ravaged by injuries. For the casual watcher, it’s hard to find reasons to watch them at this point in the season. However, Wiggins has improved over the last handful of games and that’s something to keep an eye on heading into the 2019-20 season.

The biggest topic surrounding the Timberwolves lately was the return of Jimmy Butler to Minneapolis for the first time since forcing his way out of town last November. Jace Frederick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports on what Butler had to say upon his return to the Twin Cities:

But when asked why exactly he wanted out of Minnesota, well …

“None of your business,” said Butler, whose trade demands were made public days before the start of training camp in September. People can make their assumptions as to why, but Butler will tell you that’s all those are.

One reason for Timberwolves fans to be optimistic is the improved play of Karl-Anthony Towns. Chris Hines of the Minneapolis Star Tribune gives Coach Ryan Saunders a lot of the credit:

In the second half of the season, Towns’ offensive numbers have been elite, Tuesday’s 6-for-17 shooting night against the Clippers notwithstanding. He is averaging 30.9 points since the All-Star break, second in the league. His performance has been one of the few reasons for fans to feel good amid a trying season. Towns has put himself in the conversation to pick up All-NBA honors, and if he does, he’ll see his five-year contract extension jump from around $158 million to $190 million.

One reason for Towns’ blossoming statistics could be Saunders’ nuanced and analytical take on getting Towns in the ball in productive spots on the floor. The Wolves also simply are featuring Towns more often.