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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves Preview

The Blazers will try to keep the good 2023 vibes going in Minnesota.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (19-17) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (17-21)

The Portland Trail Blazers got off to a great start in 2023, but playing the last-place team in the NBA was surely a factor. On Monday the Blazers beat the Detroit pistons by a score of 135-106, but perhaps the biggest news of the evening was the debut of Gary Payton II. In a little over 13 minutes Payton put up seven points and recorded four assists. Most fans were more excited to see his hustle, determination and defense. It was a pleasing opening night for the former Oregon State Beaver. Unfortunately Payton tweaked his ankle in the effort so we’ll have to see if he’s able to suit up.

While some may have tipped the Minnesota Timberwolves to be a solid playoff team this season, they’ve largely disappointed. Currently outside of the play-in, the murmurs of discontent from players and fans alike are growing. Injuries have played a big role, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. With teams in the West beating each other up on a nightly basis, Minnesota finds itself in an awkward spot. They aren’t all that far from the playoffs so a full-on tank doesn’t seem likely, but they haven’t shown consistency that might give one confidence that they have a platform to build on. A trade is certainly alluring, but swapping for Rudy Gobert last summer has left the cupboard bare. It’s an interesting dilemma for the Timberwolves.

Trail Blazers vs. Timberwolves - Wednesday, January 4 - 5:00 p.m. PT

How to watch on TV: Root Sports Plus, NBA League Pass

Blazers injuries: Nassir Little (out), Justise Winslow (out), Gary Payton II (questionable), Jusuf Nurkic (probable)

Timberwolves injuries: Karl-Anthony Towns (out), Jordan McLaughlin (out), Naz Reid (questionable), (Taurean Prince (questionable)

SBN Affiliate: Canis Hoopus

The Matchup

  • The bench. The Blazers’ bench is the lowest scoring in the NBA. Minnesota’s bench aren’t world beaters, but they do score 6 points more per game than Portland. In their last win against Denver, the Timberwolves got solid play and lots of minutes from every non-starter, and each of them finished with a positive plus/minus. If the Blazers aren’t careful this could be one of those games where the Portland starters get a modest lead but the it slips away when substitutions are made.
  • Rudy Gobert. It’s kind of rough to be mentioned in the conversation for worst NBA trade ever, but that where Rudy Gobert finds himself. Compared to last year his shooting percentages, free throw percentage, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and points are all down, while personal fouls are up. Yeesh. In absolute terms his stats aren’t that bad. And he can certainly cause problems for the Blazers. If Gobert is having a good night that’s bad news for Portland. Jusuf Nurkic and Drew Eubanks both played Gobert well the last time these two teams met so there is no reason that they can’t keep him largely in check again.
  • Hold on to the ball. The Timberwolves are 5th in the NBA in steals while the Blazers are 24th in avoiding turnovers. That would seem to be a bad combination. Fortunately for the Blazers, Minnesota turns the ball over even more than Portland does. If the Blazers can commit fewer turnovers than the Timberwolves they should be able to come away with a win.

What Others Are Saying

How do the Timberwolves get better? With a trade of course! Bret Stuter of Dunking With Wolves has some trade bait in mind.

No, for other NBA team GMs to sit up and take notice, the Minnesota Timberwolves must dangle something of value, an attractive player who is young, talented, productive, inexpensive, and can be severed from the team if things do not work out. On the Timberwolves roster right now, young center Naz Reid fits that description and may be the only one who does at the moment.

How did Minnesota lose to the last place Pistons but then beat the Nuggets? Jace Frederick of the Pioneer Press tries to make sense of it all.

Minnesota was far more talented than the Detroit team it played Saturday night, yet suffered one of its most disappointing losses of the season. Then the ultra-depleted Wolves took it to a healthy Nuggets team Monday. Talent will ultimately win out during the most critical junctures of the NBA postseason, but approach goes a long way on a night-to-night basis during the regular season.

Frustrating losses have Wolves fans looking forward to their Euro-stash, Matteo Spagnolo, the “Italian Ricky Rubio”, playing some day Minnesota. Leo Sun of Canis Hoopus takes us on a trip down memory lane as he looks at previous international players who came to Minnesota.

Ah, yes. That feeling of a mysterious international prospect who could potentially change the direction of the franchise warms my heart during these cold winters and even colder losing streaks. I decided to take (another) trip down memory lane a revisit some of the Timberwolves most intriguing international guards of all-time.