Where: Moda Center — Portland, Oregon
When: 9:00 pm CST (TV coverage on Fox Sports North)
Why: Because despite their incapacity to close teams out, the Wolves are still a pleasure to watch and so is this video, courtesy of our friends at the Timberwolves Entertainment Network:
A nod to the past as we look to the future. Our story continues 4.11.17. pic.twitter.com/FdoOpMY4a8— Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) March 24, 2017
The Wolves return to action tonight after doing last night in Los Angeles what they’ve done best all season: play well early, build a big lead, blow said lead in fascinating fashion, take the “L.” My guy Doogie Wolfson put this level of ineptitude into perspective:
Listen, if you’ve watched the NBA long enough, you know it’s a game of runs. Team’s ebb and flow throughout a given contest, sometimes scoring in bursts while other times failing to find the basket. I get that. But NINETEEN blown double-digit leads? NINE losses when up FIFTEEN OR MORE POINTS? That’s Gewn Stefani-levels of bananas and in my opinion speaks to a much larger, underlying issue (perhaps its youth, immaturity, fatigue/lack of depth, or a combination of them all).
Regardless, it’s hard for me to not do my best Captain Hindsight impression and imagine what the season would look like if the Wolves had just hung on in...let’s say seven of those nineteen games (spoiler alert: the Wolves would be 35-36 and a 1⁄2 game up on the Nuggets for the 8-seed).
Yet, here we are again in late March, waiting for outside temperatures to rise as the Wolves playoff odds continue to fall, longing for the days when the third month of the calendar year is no longer the last time the Wolves games mean more about playoff positioning and less about ping-pong balls.
As for tonight’s host, the Blazers have been red hot in March, winning seven of their last ten games and posting a 10-6 record since acquiring 22-year old big man Jusuf Nurkic (and a first-round pick!) from the Nuggets back on February 13th in exchange for Mason Plumlee. Since arriving in Portland, Nurkic has played sixteen games and averaged 14.3 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.9 blocks, all career highs since being drafted back in 2014 by the Chicago Bulls. Sixteen games is an extremely small sample size, and his per 36 numbers help illustrate that this potential was clearly apparent during his time in Denver.
Nevertheless, he struggled to find consistent minutes behind blossoming star Nikola Jokic, and the change of scenery may have been not only what he needed, but also what the Blazers needed as well. According to an article written by The Ringer’s Danny Chau, Nurkic currently ranks in the top five in screen assists, meaning that his screen directly led to a made basket by his teammate. When two of your teammates are sharp-shooters Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, using your giant bear-like frame (he's “listed” as 6’11” and 280 pounds) to give them more space to work can be just what the doctor ordered.
After missing out on free agent big men this past summer and failing in their first 55 games this year to replicate the offensive brilliance they displayed in the 2016 season on their way to a 5th place finish in the Western Conference, it appears Terry Stotts and the Blazers have struck gold as they continue along the trail to a potential fourth-straight trip to the Western Conference playoffs.
“And now, your starting lineups...”
Expected Starting Lineups
PG - Ricky Rubio
SG - Brandon Rush
SF - Andrew Wiggins
PF - Gorgui Dieng
C - Karl-Anthony Towns
Portland Trail Blazers
PG - Damian Lillard
SG - C.J. McCollum
SF - Maurice Harkless
PF - Noah Vonleh
C - Jusuf Nurkic
Timberwolves: Zach LaVine (knee), Nemanja Bjelica (ankle), and Nikola Pekovic (ankle) are OUT.
Trail Blazers: Ed Davis (shoulder) and Festus Ezeli (knee) are OUT.
As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Blazers match up using the Four Factors. Reminder, the Four Factors are effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TOV%), offensive rebounding percentage (ORB%), and free throw rate (FTR).
Factor / Wolves / Blazers
eFG% / 51.1% / 51.9%
TOV% / 14.7 / 14.0
ORB% / 27.4% / 22.9%
FTR / .280 / .279
The Blazers (11th) and Wolves (16th) find themselves in the middle of the pack in terms of eFG%, while the Wolves continue to display dominance on the offensive glass, ranking 4th in the NBA in ORB%. Neither team ranks in the top 10 for either FTR or TOV%.
Considering it’s the second night of a back-to-back for the Wolves and the Blazers have been an offensive juggernaut at home as of late (averaging 114 points per game over their last six home games), everything points towards the Wolves being on the wrong side of a (potential) blowout tonight. Nevertheless, when in doubt, trust Ricky Rubio.
Prediction: Wolves 115, Blazers 108