- Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (13-12) at Portland Trail Blazers (13-12)
- When: 9:10 PM CT
- TV: Bally Sports North (Michael Grady, Jim Petersen and Katie Storm)
- Radio: 830 WCCO-AM
- Line: Wolves +5.5 | Total: 230 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
What To Watch For
After a thrilling 118-108 victory last night in Salt Lake City over the Utah Jazz, the Minnesota Timberwolves are back in action tonight at 9 PM CT for the first game of a two-game set at the Moda Center against Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers, who are coming off a tough 121-120 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Thursday evening.
Here’s what I’m eager to see in tonight’s matchup:
How Anthony Edwards Responds
The Timberwolves’ transcendent young star not only struggled to score last night against Utah (14 points on 3/14 FG), but has yet to get the proverbial ‘second night of a back-to-back’ (B2B) monkey off his back so far in his career.
Through his 29 career games played on zero days rest, Edwards holds averages of 19.1 points on 39.5/31.5/81.1 shooting splits, 4.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists to 2.5 turnovers, and a nightly plus-minus of -3.4 across 33.7 minutes per game, according to Stat Muse.
This season, those numbers have dipped to 19.0 points on 40.4/21.1/88.2 shooting splits, 6.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists to 4.7 turnovers, and has averaged a plus-minus of -6.3 in 35.0 minutes per contest in his trio of second games of a B2B. Minnesota is 1-2 in those contests, with the lone win coming against the last-place Houston Rockets.
Edwards is usually one to rise the occasion when faced with adversity, especially when teammates are missing or get into foul trouble (see: Play-In Game). So far without Towns, A1 has answered the call in a major way. Tonight, he faces the team that has struggled the most with the task of stopping him.
The former No. 1 overall pick is averaging 29.0 points per game in five contests against Portland, his best mark against any team. Last time he visited the Rose Quarter, he dropped a cool 40 points in a 109-107 Minnesota win.
He’ll need to play closer to that level than his standard B2B level if the Wolves want to steal one tonight, but faces a pair of stout perimeter defenders in Josh Hart and Jerami Grant, both of whom were acquired last season in an effort to stifle perimeter stars like Edwards. It’ll be a great test of where he’s at on his path to find the consistency that superstardom necessitates.
Can Minnesota Dominate the Interior?
So far this season Minnesota is 6th in points in the paint (54.4 per game), while Portland is surrendering 50.9 a night, 21st in the league. On top of that, the two teams are trending in opposite directions in terms of rebounding. Head Coach Chris Finch’s crew is 25th in defensive rebounding rate (70.0%) this season, while Chauncey Billups’ squad checks in 17th (71.1%). However, in the last 10 games, Minnesota ranks 11th (!) at 72.8% and Portland is 21st (70.9%), per NBA Stats.
If Rudy Gobert can continue his dominant stretch (14.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, 1.7 stocks over his last three games) and Jaden McDaniels (who is top 15 in deflections, and one of six qualified players who average at least one block and one steal per game) can join him in preventing points inside and generally raising hell on the defensive end of the floor, Minnesota should have a good chance of winning.
They’ll need to be effective offensively, too. Portland allows shots at the rim at a higher rate (34.5% of all opp. shots) than anyone except the San Antonio Spurs (35.4%). While the Blazers rank 13th in dFG% at the rim (65.7%), that will be put to the test against a Wolves team with the 7-foot-1 Gobert and a driving monster in Edwards that have fueled Minnesota to six in both at-rim shot rate (34.3%) and at-rim finishing (69.3%), all per PBP Stats.
The Timberwolves can’t abandon shooters, though, as the Trail Blazers are 4th in 3-point shooting (38.4%) and 10th in percentage of points scored from deep (33.2%).
D’Angelo Russell Keeping it Rolling + the Guard Rotation
On paper, this is another great matchup for D’Angelo Russell to do some damage. Portland blitzes in pick-and-roll coverage a good amount, but this isn’t a good time for them to do that considering the Wolves have an excellent finishing big in PnR, two rockets ready for takeoff in the slot against a spread floor in Edwards and McDaniels, and an very strong second-side playmaker in Kyle Anderson.
I’d expect more drop coverage to protect against Gobert and so that the Blazers can play more ‘boxes and elbows’ coverage to force Edwards, McDaniels and Anderson to beat them from behind the arc. Combine that with Hart likely guarding Edwards and Grant likely guarding Anderson and you have Russell against one of Lillard or Anfernee Simons.
The opportunity will be there for him to find his scoring rhythm once again tonight, coming off his big 30-point night, which included 20 points on 6/6 from deep in the fourth quarter alone.
Beyond Russell, the guard rotation will be interesting. The Blazers roll out perhaps the most explosive scoring back-court in the entire league, which will require strong point-of-attack defense from Minnesota.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Finch and Co. leaned on rookie wing Wendell Moore Jr. to play the lion’s share of the 15-20 minutes normally Jordan McLaughlin, who re-aggravated his left calf strain last night and is out tonight. Moore Jr. showed his defensive prowess going toe-to-toe with Ja Morant in his first career start a few games ago, and is also a good ball mover and transition player on offense, too. Austin Rivers should get increased run as well in an effort to slow down Lillard and Simons, which may mean less minutes for Jaylen Nowell if he’s not scoring early and often tonight.
- Jordan McLaughlin (left calf strain)
- Josh Minott (G-League assignment)
- Taurean Prince (right shoulder sublaxation)
- Karl-Anthony Towns (right calf strain)
- Drew Eubanks (right hip contusion)
- Josh Hart (left ankle sprain)
- Justise Winslow (right groin soreness)
- Nassir Little (right femoral head impaction fracture)
- Gary Payton II (return to competition reconditioning)