Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (25-37) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (26-35)
Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, Minnesota
When: 7:00 pm CST (TV coverage on Fox Sports North)
Why: With only twenty games remaining on the schedule and three games behind the 8th place Denver Nuggets, the Wolves enter a stretch of “must-win” games as they host another team fighting for the same playoff spot.
The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament is exactly one week away. Known to many as “March Madness,” the tournament is famous for upsets, last-second buzzer beaters, and displaying college basketball’s premier players on the biggest stage. It’s also known for being plump full of NBA scouts, rising draft stocks, and the (real) start of the mock draft season.
As Eric in Madison pointed out over the weekend, the Wolves gritty pursuit of the 8-seed in the Western Conference has kept the focus of Wolves fans and Canis nation on the present, rather than (once again) the future. Well, as the Wolves embark on a three-game home stand, all of that may change by as early as Selection Sunday, depending on their performance over the next six days.
The Wolves return home tonight, winners of six of their last ten games, including a disappointing overtime loss to the Spurs on Saturday night after yet again blowing a 15+ point lead in the first half:
#Twolves NBA-leading 15th loss when up 10+ points, 8th when up 15+. Had won 5 straight when up double-digits entering tonight. Unfortunate.— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) March 5, 2017
As Doogie points out, the Wolves had actually won their last five games when up double-digits, but a combination of poor late-game execution, careless turnovers, and the MVP-caliber play of a 6’7” basketball-playing robot proved to be too much for the Wolves to overcome. Despite the loss, the Spanish Unicorn notched his fifth-career triple double, which set a new record for NBA triple-doubles:
#TripleDoubleAlert— NBA (@NBA) March 5, 2017
Ricky Rubio: 11p/11r/10a
NEW LEAGUE-WIDE RECORD FOR MOST TRIPLE-DOUBLES IN A SEASON (79)!!!
The Wolves now turn their attention to the Blazers, who currently sit 1.5 games ahead of the Minnesota in the standings, despite a 4-6 mark over their last ten games. The Blazers made some noise at the NBA Trade Deadline, sending away fan favorite Mason Plumlee to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for third-year man Jusuf Nurkic.
With Plumlee entering this summer as a restricted free agent, and after Portland’s spending spree of #SummerSixteen, the Blazers had little choice but to roll the dice on Nurkic, who struggled to find consistent playing time behind Nikola Jokic in Denver and is owed only $2.9 million next season.
While it’s far too early to grade the trade for either side, the returns so far for the Blazers have been promising. Despite averaging just 1.2 assists during his 2.5 years in Denver, Nurkic has demonstrated strong passing skills under new coach Terry Stotts, handing out 4.0 assists per game. With Ed Davis going down with season-ending shoulder surgery, Nurkic has quickly found himself as the franchise center for a struggling Blazers team. Playing nearly 30-minutes per game for the Blazers (up from his average of 18-minutes in Denver), Nurkic is also pouring in 14.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 4.5 FTA’s per game, all career highs for the big man.
“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), Adreian Payne (illness), and Nikola Pekovic (ankle) are OUT.
Blazers: Allen Crabbe (knee) is PROBABLE; Evan Turner (hand), 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% / 51.7%
TOV% / 14.7 / 13.9
ORB% / 27.3% / 22.6%
FTR / .283 / .276
While both the Wolves and Blazers are currently in the top half of the league in terms of eFG%, the Wolves continue to demonstrate dominance in ORB%, ranking 3rd only behind the Denver Nuggets (28.8) and the Chicago Bulls (28.0). Conversely, the Blazers are 17th in the NBA in ORB%, so continuing to attack the offensive glass will be a #MajorKey for the Wolves if they want to win this one.
Prediction: Wolves 112, Blazers 105
UPDATE: The game has been postponed due to condensation on the court. It was deemed too dangerous to play, and the game will be re-scheduled.
This is unfortunate, but the correct decision. Player safety has to be paramount.