Portland Trail Blazers (11-15) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (11-15)
The Portland Trail Blazers face the Minnesota Timberwolves at home for their first of four straight at the Moda Center. The Blazers come into the contest on a four-game losing streak, including three in Portland, directly after winning ten straight on their home floor. The Timberwolves are playing the first of a brief two-game road trip in Portland, coming into this game as losers of five straight.
Sunday, December 12 - 6:00 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: ROOT Sports, NBA League Pass
Blazers injuries: Damian Lillard (questionable), CJ McCollum (out), Cody Zeller (out), Greg Brown (out)
Timberwolves injuries: D’Angelo Russell (questionable)
SBN Affiliate: Canis Hoopus
What To Watch For
- Damian Lillard. Lillard is listed as questionable for this contest, which would be his first game since November 29th against the Jazz. Lillard has not enjoyed the year that many thought he would, but resting to help heal a nagging injury could be a good step in the right direction in his attempt to get back on the right track. Even if Lillard isn’t quite where he has been in years past, his passing will instantly impact the game. With Lillard and CJ McCollum both out, the Blazers offense relied heavily on Dennis Smith Jr., who was good for his role, but excels as a spark off the bench.
- Timberwolves’ defense. The defense of the Timberwolves has been one of the biggest surprises early in this season. With D’Angelo Russell questionable for this game, the start may go to Patrick Beverly. Beverly and Jarred Vanderbilt have helped the Timberwolves to be the 13th ranked defense in defensive rating. Their defense has faltered a bit in their recent losing streak, but that may just be the result of a small sample size. With McCollum out, the Blazers will have to rely on other players around Lillard to pick up that offensive slack.
- Turnover battle. The Blazers have been stingy with the ball year, sitting 9th in the league in least turnovers committed per game. The Timberwolves on the other hand, sit 26th in the same category. If the Blazers can force turnovers early and get easy baskets, it will help them set a tone on their home floor. With Russell questionable, the Timberwolves may be missing their primary playmaker and could be prone to even more turnovers than they normally commit.
What Others Are Saying
Mike O’Hagan of Canis Hoopus talked about the Timberwolves defense, and why it has looked worse over the last couple games.
That has left the Wolves looking like a middle of the road relief pitcher in baseball. The Wolves are the career journeyman who throws a 96mph fastball up in the strike zone every time. You can get away with that against lower level competition, but against top competition, that reliever needs a second pitch to keep the hitter off-balance.
The Wolves have no off-speed pitch, or at least no passable one. Like the journeyman reliever, the Wolves default defense is the scheme for their talent and personnel. It should be what they’re playing the majority of the time, but NBA offenses are simply too good to just do the same thing over and over again against.
Phil Ford of Zone Coverage mentions the Timberwolves’ success against one of the hardest early season schedules.
So far this season, Minnesota has played the 16th toughest schedule in the NBA with a relatively evenly projected record of 12-13 according to ESPN’s strength of schedule and expected win-loss metrics. Chris Finch’s squad has done a remarkable job beating the teams they should beat this season with a 6-2 record against teams under .500. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to punch above their weight class often with just a 5-12 record against teams .500 and above. The Wolves play only two teams below .500, the Portland Trail Blazers and New York Knicks, between now until Jan. 6. And they have the 12th-toughest schedule remaining, according to Tankathon.
Note: Greg Brown was a late scratch due to a non-COVID-related illness.