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Timberwolves Treat Trail Blazers to Outsized Defeat

When you have nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, Portland defense.

Portland Trail Blazers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

If the Portland Trail Blazers were looking to redeem a 60-point loss on Thursday as they faced the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, well...they can keep looking. Minnesota pounded Portland 116-93, sending the Blazers home with a 1-6 record on their longest road trip of the season.

As happened with the Oklahoma City Thunder last night, this was a “game” in name only. The ‘Wolves got off to a glowing start, led by 20 in the first period, weathered a couple of brief Blazers runs, and waltzed to the win.

A returning Jabari Walker led the Blazers in scoring off the bench with 17 in 32 minutes. Rudy Gobert scored 24 points with 17 rebounds for the Timberwolves. Karl-Anthony Towns contributed 23.

If you missed the action, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After that, here are a few prominent observations from the game.

Defense

There are no words to describe how horrible Portland’s defense is right now. Since I don’t want to make comparisons to hamsters being put through a meat grinder, let’s just say that the Timberwolves shot 55.0% from the field. There’s no way to prosper, or even get close, when the Blazers are allowing the opponent that level of offensive success.

Head Coach Chauncey Billups pulled out the classic desperation move, putting the Blazers into multiple zone defense possessions during the first period. Not only did Minnesota destroy Portland from the arc—shooting 4-7 in the frame—they drove through the seams that the defense left open. The reason that’s in italics: zone defenses are literally designed to shut down penetration and inside play by eliminating paths to the hoop for the dribbler. Offenses should never find straight-line drive opportunities against a zone. But here we are.

Ibou Badji and Duop Reath blocks aside, the Blazers are playing “D” right now like kids showing up to a spelling bee without even knowing the alphabet. Since this is a point of emphasis—supposedly a strength—for a team with the second-worst offense in the league, it’s a little bit of an issue.

Height Deficit

Scheme and talent weren’t the only shortcomings for the Blazers tonight. The Timberwolves looked bigger, stronger, and most importantly taller than their visiting opponents. Rudy Gobert towers over most NBA players, of course, and Karl-Anthony Towns is a former center playing power forward. But Portland gave up 2-3 inches, and corresponding length, at multiple positions. That left Minnesota open on attempts even when Portland players were in the vicinity.

Simple plays like the pick and roll became devastating under these circumstances. Gobert diving down the lane became a helicopter flying over horse cavalry. One toss to outstretched arms yielded a layup or dunk. Three-point closeouts lacked authority without sufficient aerial coverage at the finish.

The natural drawback started the Blazers off without a strong defensive foundation. It only got worse from there, as the Timberwolves exploited it all night long.

Analytics Dream

Minnesota attempted 80 shots tonight. All but 3 of those either came in the lane or behind the three-point arc. The ‘Wolves weren’t just feasting at a buffet, but a high-end Vegas buffet. They became shot gourmets, choosing from the best, most effective attempts. Even when the Blazers scored, they couldn’t match quality. That made even the good offensive moments seem semi-futile.

Anfernee Simons

Speaking of futility, Scoot Henderson had to cede playmaking duties to Anfernee Simons after Minnesota exploited Henderson for multiple turnovers. That left Simons as the primary passer and scorer for the evening. He excelled at neither, finishing the game with 5 points on 0-10 shooting, 3 assists, and 3 turnovers under an unholy barrage of Timberwolves double-teams. Opponents know exactly where Portland’s jugular lies nowadays. Just look for the uniform with #1 on it. Take out Ant and the Blazers don’t succeed.

Offensive Rebounds

Offensive rebounds became one of the things the Blazers did well tonight. They earned a 10-7 edge on the offensive glass against a bigger, rebound-intensive opponent. The effect was muted, though. The Blazers got 13 second-chance points, the same as the Timberwolves. That’s not an advantage. And this is one of my oft-repeated complaints with this area of focus. Even when it works, it doesn’t do as much as you’d think. It also leaves the team late getting back, although that wasn’t much of an issue tonight.

Heading Home

After getting drubbed in 6 out of 7 games on this road trip, the Blazers have to hope their energy returns as they head back to the Moda Center. The glassy, dead-eyed look has appeared on the team’s faces earlier and earlier as this sojourn has progressed. Bursts of energy from Jabari Walker and Toumani Camara notwithstanding, the Blazers have mentally surrendered games in the second quarter quite a few times lately. The home crowd might provide an antidote for that.

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Boxscore

The Blazers return home for a tilt with the Phoenix Suns on Sunday evening, with a 6:00 PM, Pacific start.