Wolves at Blazers
8:00 pm Central
The Timberwolves face the Portland Trail Blazers for the 4th and final time this season, looking for a win that would earn them a season split with the Blazers. Unfortunately, for the third time in four games against Portland, the Wolves will be on the 2nd night of a back to back after their win in Utah last night. The Wolves are 4-10 on zero days rest this season, while they are at least .500 in all other rest situations.
There is no word on whether center Nikola Pekovic will play tonight, but it seems unlikely if he was not available after his pre-game workout last night. We'll see. Ronny Turiaf and Kevin Martin are both out.
The Blazers are also hurting from injuries to their big men: LaMarcus Aldridge is out with a groin injury, and backups Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland are also unavailable. That leaves them very thin up front, as Dorell Wright started as the "power forward" for them in their last game against the Jazz. We can expect to see a lot of small ball tonight from both teams, especially if Pek doesn't go.
The Blazers have been struggling some recently, having gone 6-9 in their last 15 games. Much of that has been schedule driven, however, as they have had a particularly rough stretch playing some of the best teams in the league, and a bit of coming back to earth in the close ones. It isn't clear that they are playing significantly worse basketball then they were when they couldn't lose earlier in the season. Meanwhile, two of their wins in this difficult period have been over the Wolves.
Despite the Wolves' injuries, they should have an advantage to the extent that it isn't clear who the Blazers can use to guard Kevin Love, who is coming off his first career triple double last night. On the other hand, the Wolves depleted roster combined with it being an NBA schedule death game--road back to back--makes it a very tough challenge, especially with the Blazers array of perimeter threats.
The Blazers have hurt the Wolves, and many other teams, with their three point shooting--they have the 2nd most makes and 4th best percentage in the league. That fuels the top rated offense in the NBA and is something the Wolves have to find a way to slow down. Given that their primary threat inside the arc is out, hopefully the Wolves will be able to stick closer to the shooters tonight. Wesley Matthews and Damian Lillard have been a particularly lethal combo from the arc, with both over 40% on over six attempts each per game.
The Wolves will need big contributions from their bench to hang in this one; they got help from several deep bench guys in Utah last night, and they will need it again from someone other then Love tonight. The absence of Martin in particular seems to have freed up Ricky Rubio to an extent to play more with the ball in his hands, which has led to some bigger scoring and assisting games as he operates the pick and roll. Chase Budinger also seems to be heating up, and they will likely need a few perimeter makes from him tonight as well.
What's amazing about these teams is that the Wolves actually have a bigger point differential then the Blazers, and they have the same Pythagorean record, and yet the Blazers are sitting in the 3rd spot in the West at 37-18 while the Wolves remain below .500.
It's tough to be a Wolves fan.
Enjoy. We'll be back later with a game thread.