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Game Preview #38: Wolves vs. Trail Blazers

Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns will look to build upon their strong starts to 2024 as they welcome Jerami Grant and Portland to Target Center.

Portland Trail Blazers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves are back home in Downtown Minneapolis to welcome the Portland Trail Blazers to Target Center after a thriller in Boston concluded a 16-game stretch against playoff opponents. Portland is playing on the second night of a back-to-back after a historically bad road loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder last night, in which they trailed by 62 points after three quarters — the largest 36-minute deficit in NBA history.


Game Info

  • Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (26-11) vs Portland Trail Blazers (10-27)
  • When: Friday, January 10 at 7:00 PM CT
  • Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, MN
  • TV: Bally Sports North (Michael Grady, Jim Petersen and Lea B. Olsen)
  • Radio: Wolves Radio App, KFAN FM 100.3
  • Line: Wolves -15.5, Total: 221.5 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)

Injury Report

Updated as of Friday 1/10 at 1:45 PM CT:

Minnesota

OUT:

  • Jaylen Clark (right achilles tendon rupture rehab)

QUESTIONABLE

  • Rudy Gobert (left hip soreness)

Portland

OUT

  • Moses Brown (left wrist fracture)
  • Robert Williams III (right knee ligament tear)
  • Shaedon Sharpe (adductor soreness)

DOUBTFUL:

  • Deandre Ayton (right knee tendinitis)

PROBABLE:

  • Jabari Walker (left knee tendinitis)

What To Watch For

Portland Trail Blazers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The Trap Game of All Trap Games

If there was ever a time an NBA team overlook its opponent, it would be this game. The Wolves just finished a grueling 16-game stretch against playoff teams, and (ironically) are 16-point favorites against a Blazers team are coming off an embarrassing, historical beatdown in OKC on Thursday night. To make matters worse for Portland, one of their best players, Shaedon Sharpe, re-aggravated an adductor injury that has kept him limited or out of the lineup for the majority of the three weeks, and will not play tonight.

Sharpe, Jerami Grant, Scoot Henderson and Anfernee Simons combined to score just 43 points on 15/57 (26.3%) while turning it over seven times in last night’s loss. Henderson’s -56 mark tied the second-worst single-game plus-minus in NBA history, one off Manny Harris’s record of -57. The Blazers as a whole made 28 of their 101 shots. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 31 points in 21 minutes. OKC had a bigger largest lead (62) and more rebounds (59) than the combined points from the Portland starting five plus Sharpe (57).

It was bad.

It has been bad for the Blazers in 2024. They are 1-5 since New Year’s Day with losses of 21, 29, 36, 28, and now 62 points.

Portland’s seven-game road trip finally ends after tonight. As our friend Dave Deckard over at Blazer’s Edge wrote on Thursday night, the Thunder gave the Trail Blazers a tour of nine circles of hell. Unfortunately for Portland, they may not leave the ninth circle.

Game-time temps will approach 9º with gusts of wind pushing 50 miles per hour as anywhere from one-to-three inches of snow falls outside Target Center. Inside, the Blazers will have to deal with Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, who are both averaging north of 25.0 points per game on at least 47.9/41.2/87.5 shooting splits in 2024. Add in the return of Mike Conley (rest), the hellish fury Nickeil Alexander-Walker unleashed in Boston potentially making the trip to Minneapolis, and Kyle Anderson looking to snowball his best game of the season into another productive performance, and it could be a long night for Portland.

But on the bright side, Head Coach Chauncey Billups will get back Malcolm Brogdon, who took quite possibly one the most well-timed nights off in recent league history. The Blazers hold a net rating of -13.5 with their veteran point guard off the floor, which is the lowest of any rotation player. Brodgon’s on-off of +11.0 is the second-highest on the team, trailing only backup center Duop Reath, who has been started in place of Deandre Ayton. The former Phoenix Sun has missed the team’s nine games with knee tendinitis, and will likely miss his 10th tonight.

Not to mention that the last time these two teams played at Target Center, Portland rested Grant and Damian Lillard and used a starting five of Sharpe, Skylar Mays, Matisse Thybulle, Trendon Watford and Drew Eubanks to beat a Minnesota team desperately in need of wins as they tried to chase down the No. 6 seed in the playoffs.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Orlando Magic Photo by Rich Storry/Getty Images

The Need For Ball Movement

While Portland is a team many might think of as a team capable of explosive offensive scoring nights given the talent they have with Simons, Grant, Henderson, Sharpe and Ayton, the common theme in their 10 wins is stout defense. Portland has registered a defensive rating of 107.1 or lower (75th percentile or better) in seven of their 10 wins, largely driven by not sending their opponents to the free throw line.

The Timberwolves’ offense this season has gotten bogged down with a lack of player and ball movement against teams that can switch effectively and are willing to junk up the game with different types of zone defenses. Minnesota isolates at a higher frequency against these defenses, especially in blended bench/starter lineups, which can kill their offensive rhythm. Portland ranks first in the NBA (0.800 PPP) in isolation defense and forces opponents into isolations on 6.9% of their possessions, which ranks tied for eighth in the league, according to Synergy Sports.

Minnesota did a good job of passing and moving without the ball for the majority of the second, third and fourth quarters of the loss to Boston (one of the league’s best switching teams who also throws a ton of different schemes at opposing offenses), but completely went away from it in the final eight minutes of the game. The more kinetic energy the Wolves’ offense has, the better it will be against a Blazers defense that can move well in space.

After all, Portland has allowed 125 points or more in four of their last five games, so if Minnesota isn’t able to put up points, it will be a somewhat scathing representation of how far they have to go if they truly want to compete in the Western Conference this spring.