Remember the (somewhat) halcyon days of the early season, when the Miinnesota Timberwolves won five of their first six games on the road (even if they couldn't win at all back in the Twin Cities)? Whatever you want to call it, schedule balance, the law of averages, that great early-season winning percentage has tilted massively back down to earth of late.
Over the entire season, the Wolves have won fourteen games; seven home, seven away. The problem there is, the Wolves recorded six of their seven away wins before the season even hit December, and their last away win was on December 20 in Brooklyn. That makes it ten straight road losses, and tonight's game against the Portland Trail Blazers does not feel likely to hold much solace (cross your fingers for Tuesday against the Lakers).
The Blazers, predicted by many to be one of the worst teams in the NBA this season after losing most of their starting lineup, have been a pleasant surprise, hovering four games below .500, which is currently good enough for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. The Wolves have played the Blazers close this season, with a 106-101 loss that I still have beef with in the home opener and a 109-103 home loss in December which featured a blown big lead in the second half (story of the season).
It is an often-discussed talking point around these parts, but it's impossible to preview a game between these two teams without at least mentioning three-point shooting. The Blazers are fourth in the league in attempts from beyond the arc per game at 28.3, while the Wolves are dead last at 15.4. Rankings are the same for made threes per game: fourth for the Blazers (10.1), dead last for the Wolves (5.0). The Blazers aren't the best shooting team from outside the arc but they try a lot.
Both teams are similarly bad defensively (defensive ratings above 105), and interestingly, also have a very similar true shooting percentage (53.7% for the Blazers, 53.6% for the Wolves), although clearly from very different sources. All told, there are some similarities between the two teams, but those don't tell the story nearly as well as the stark differences.
The key to stopping Portland lies in stopping their dynamic backcourt of Damian Lillard (who takes more threes per game than anyone in the NBA not named Steph Curry) and CJ McCollum, who has flourished in his new starting role this season. In fourteen career games against the Wolves, Lillard averages 23.6 points and 6.1 assists per game, so stopping him hasn't been a thing the Wolves have been particularly good at (he's also 11-3 career against Minnesota, so those two things may be related).
All told, it will be a tough challenge for the young Wolves, as many of their games are, but one positive note: the last time Karl-Anthony Towns saw the Blazers' front court, he went for 27 points and 12 rebounds, the first time this season he led the Wolves in scoring in a game, and he could be set for a big night. He will need to be to set the Wolves up for what has to be called an upset victory.
Minnesota Timberwolves at Portland Trail Blazers
|Ricky Rubio||Damian Lillard|
|Andrew Wiggins||CJ McCollum|
|Tayshaun Prince||Al-Farouq Aminu|
|Karl-Anthony Towns||Noah Vonleh|
|Nikola Pekovic||Mason Plumlee|
With Kevin Garnett (sore right knee) and Kevin Martin (sore right wrist) both listed as doubtful for the game, expect another dose of the Pek-KAT starting lineup tonight.
Moda Center, Portland, OR
TV: Fox Sports North, NBA TV (which means no League Pass, which means I'm booing internally)
Radio: 830 WCCO
Follow our opponents at Blazer's Edge.
Behave, none of the usual forbidden things in the comments. Enjoy the game.