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Game Preview: Wolves at Trail Blazers

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Minnesota tries to get back on track against the high-powered Portland offense

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Golden State Warriors Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Wolves at Blazers

9pm CST

FS North / WCCO Radio 830

Sitting at 2-5 in the midst of a five game losing streak, it’s safe to say Minnesota could use a win to right the ship.

To do so, Minnesota needs to do one thing more than anything else, and that is just to slow down the Blazers offense. Sounds pretty simple, right?

All jokes aside, the only way the Wolves are going to be competitive tonight is if they lock in defensively. They’ve been SO bad on that end since Karl-Anthony Towns went down, and they simply won’t give themselves a chance to win until the defense becomes just bad instead of outright embarrassing.

Tonight, that probably means slowing down C.J. McCollum, who is off to the best start of his career. I’m basically conceding that Minnesota is not going to have an answer for Damian Lillard, and have moved on to a more feasible task like slowing down Portland’s second option.

In terms of an action that Minnesota is going to have to guard, the one that makes Portland’s offense go is the two-man game between Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic. Nurk has started slowly this year, but when he is playing well is a monster screen-setter and solid playmaker on the short roll.

On Minnesota’s end, the light at the end of the tunnel is that Portland’s defense is also truly awful.

They brought in old friend Robert Covington in the offseason which in a vacuum should help, but they aren’t getting as much mileage out of that addition as they hoped. The main reason for that is that they’re trying to use Covington as an on-ball stopper, when that isn’t what he specializes at. RoCo is a fine on-ball defender, but he really adds the most value as an off-ball menace. To that note, Portland’s defense is only better than Minnesota’s and Washington’s, and is currently surrendering 114.9 points per-100 possessions.

Matchup to Watch

For Minnesota to have a chance tonight, they’re going to need to win the bench minutes handily. Portland has a more talented starting lineup, but if Minnesota plays well they may be able to remain afloat in those all-starters minutes.

Where they have a real opportunity is when the reserves enter the game.

So far, Terry Stotts is playing Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter together quite a bit.

If that happens, Ryan Saunders needs to put either D’Angelo Russell or Anthony Edwards in a PnR literally every time down the floor. There are few players in the NBA as inept at playing defense in space as Kanter is. If they put Kanter in the action every time down, Portland’s defense will inevitably break down and lead to open looks. That is Minnesota’s opportunity to win this game.

It might be too early to declare a game a “must-win”, but this borders on that for Minnesota. The schedule softens up a bit over the next week or so, but getting to 3-5 here is a heck of a lot better than 2-6 when trying to keep pace with the rest of the pack in the Western Conference.

Winner of the Day

I included a little bit of gambling fun in my previews during the 2018-19 season as a way to stay entertained during a lost season, and I’m bringing it back this year. Some nights it’ll be a simple spread or over/under pick, some nights it’ll be a fun player prop. Who really knows.

My last pick was waaaaay back in December against Utah, where taking the over on Karl-Anthony Towns points + rebounds + assists proved to be a loser. We’re 0-1 on the year.

As always, this is merely for fun, and is in no way a recommendation on what to gamble on, or to gamble at all. (If you have a gambling problem, call 1-800-GAMBLER).

The pick: Under 234 total points (-115)

I’m fading myself on this one. I expect there to be roughly a bajillion points tonight, so naturally it feels like a good time to take the under. Neither of these teams play any defense, so naturally, it’s a good time to take the under. That’s really all I’ve got as I try to fight back to .500.

Projected Lineups

Wolves

D’Angelo Russell

Malik Beasley

Jarrett Culver

Juancho Hernangomez

Ed Davis

Blazers

Damian Lillard

C.J. McCollum

Derrick Jones, Jr.

Robert Covington

Jusuf Nurkic