Timberwolves Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 21

Setting the stage: 

Similar to last week, there is absolutely no margin for error for the Wolves.

The fact that the Wolves are ranked No. 3 in the league for average points scored speaks volumes about our defense–or lack thereof.  Minnesota continues to struggle in keeping its opponents under 100 points, and something has to change. I think it’s safe to say that the team is feeling Andrei Kirilenko’s absence this season, at least on that side of the floor. Corey Brewer consistently does well on D, and having Nikola Pekovic back in the lineup helps tremendously. If the Timberwolves want to win games, defense needs to stay a focus.

Can the Wolves even make the playoffs at this point? I mean, is there any chance?

It’s a small chance, and other teams would have to lose, but the chance is still there. According to CBSSports’ David McCoy, Minny will have to win at least 14 of its last 18 games in order to have a shot at the postseason.

Winning against Milwaukee definitely helped, and Sunday’s game against Sacramento should be a “W” as well. However, a Friday loss in Charlotte really hurt. In addition, we have tough games this week against Dallas and Houston. The opponents the Wolves absolutely need to beat are those near us in the standings: Dallas, Denver and Phoenix.

With all this in mind, let’s take a look at the week ahead…

 

Game 66: Sunday, 3/16, 6pm – Sacramento Kings @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

At 23-42* on the season, Sacramento should be an easy opponent–especially considering it’s a home contest.  However, in the two games between the Wolves and Kings this season, the teams have split wins.  Minnesota lost at home to SAC on January 15, but earlier this month the Wolves came away with the win on the west coast.

Opponent to watch:

Rudy Gay – Between the games against Sacramento earlier this season, Gay totaled 57 points. Despite only averaging 20 PPG, the Wolves tend to allow the forward to walk all over their defense. Look for Brewer to be playing extra close defense against Gay Sunday night.

Predictions:

Sacramento is currently averaging 101 points per game. The Wolves are averaging 106.3. If Minnesota can step up its defensive game and hold Gay to under 20 points, the home team has a definite advantage here. I’ll take the Wolves in triple digits.

Final Score: Wolves 109, Kings 96

rudy gay

Game 67: Wednesday, 3/19, 7:30pm – Timberwolves @ Dallas Mavericks (TV: FS North)

The Wolves face Dallas on the road Wednesday evening, and if there is one game more crucial than the others at this point, it’s this one. The Mavericks are currently in the No. 8 (and last) seat for the Playoffs — two spots ahead of Minnesota. The Mavs’ current record of 39-27* has an edge over the Wolves, and they absolutely cannot afford to lose. In my opinion, this will be the toughest game of the week.  The good news is, Minnesota has played well against Dallas this year. Out of three contests, Minny took two of the wins and lost the final in 100-98 heart-breaker. 

Opponent to watch:

Monta Ellis – Ellis is currently averaging 18.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. In the past nine games, the SG has scored 15+ points every night.  Ellis’ quick passes and agility on the floor are hard to control, especially with a defensively challenged team like Minnesota.

Predictions:

This game holds a lot of weight, and you know the Wolves are feeling it. Having a healthy lineup again (and especially with Kevin Martin back), I think Minnesota will take the upper hand in a shootout.

Final score: Timberwolves 104, Mavericks  100

 

Game 68: Thursday, 3/20, 7pm – Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets (TV: FS North)

At this point in the season, Houston has pretty much cemented itself in the playoffs. There is less resting on this game for the opponents; however, Minnesota has historically struggled against the Rockets. The Wolves are 0-2 against the Rockets this season, by a total disadvantage of 20 points. Especially since this is a consecutive road game for Minny, it’s going to be a tiring game.

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Harden missed the last game against Minnesota with a sore foot, but he is back to his old self and tearing up defenses across the league. Harden has slated three games with over 30 points (two of them over 40!) in his past 10 games. At 6’5″ and 225 lbs, Harden is one of the largest and most physical guards in the game. I expect the Wolves to have a hard time stopping him.

Predictions:

As much as I hate to say it, I don’t think the Wolves will be able to pull out a win here.  Houston runs a physical offense that Minnesota will have a tough time defending, and the size comparison alone is huge. Don’t forget the fact that the Wolves fell to Houston less than a month ago … without Harden.

Final score: Timberwolves 99, Rockets 111

james harden

Wrap-up:

It all comes down to these last 19 games. If Minnesota can come out of this week with at least two wins under its belt, playoff hopes will be kept alive. The first two games this week will really set the tempo, so I’m hoping my predictions are accurate there.

 

*records current as of 3/14/2014

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 20

 

I feel like this guy trying to predict Timberpups W's & L's (Photo credit: batman.wikia.com)

I feel like this guy trying to predict Timberpups   W’s & L’s
(Photo credit: batman.wikia.com)

Setting the stage: 

For those of you looking for a quick read/preview of tonight’s game against the Raptors, click here.  At worst, the Timberpups will enter week 20 with a .500 record.  From a 30,000 foot view, the week ahead is another great chance for the Wolves to make up some ground on the Mavericks and/or Suns.  However, those teams keep chugging along.  Friday night’s action was a little insane for both the Wolves and Mavs who had 30+ point advantages and almost blew their performances by allowing their opponents to come back into the game.

The Wolves’ defense needs to vastly improve over what they have been doing over the past few weeks.  Only once in the last seven games (again, this is ahead of Sunday’s game) have the Wolves held their opponent under 100 points; and it isn’t like the team has been playing a murderers’ row of opponents on the schedule (like their late November, early December schedule).

The Pups can’t lose a game this week.  There is no room left for a letdown game.  After a Monday night game against the Clippers, the Suns will play six games in a row against Eastern Conference opponents.  Read: the schedule eases up for them.  The Mavs’ schedule looks to be a bit more daunting this coming week with games in Golden State and OKC (as well as Utah).

So here we go with less than 20 games remaining on the schedule.  Can the Wolves pull it off?  It starts off with …

Game 64: Tuesday, 3/11, 7pm – Milwaukee Bucks @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Suffice it to say that the Bucks are not very good.  They are floating around the .200 line in terms of win percentage and are merely 30+ games behind the Indiana Pacers for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.  Progress.  Can we please move this team to Seattle under new ownership?  This would also give the Wolves another opportunity to petition the league for switching conferences.  Is anyone reading this against this plan?!

Opponent to watch:

Brandon Knight – Statistically speaking, Knight is having a pretty good season.  Clearly, it isn’t leading to many victories.  We’ll see how Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea look to contain Knight and his new PG brethren, Ramon Sessions.

Predictions:

Bucks in six?  If the Pups lose this one, board up the Target Center and start working on renovations.  Final score: Timberwolves 109, Bucks 95

Game 65: Friday, 3/14, 6pm – Timberpups @ Charlotte Bobcats (TV: FS North)

The Wolves’ home-stand ends with a trip to Charlotte to take on the Bobcats.  Charlotte will be coming in off of a game Wednesday night in Washington so they should be equally rested.  The Pups destroyed the Bobcats in Minnesota in early January and there is nothing to suggest the results should be different for this game – unless you believe in the Bobcats ~.500 record at home this season.

Opponent to watch:

Al Jefferson – Al is back!  Jefferson is putting up the normal 20+ppg/10+rpg … and his team remains under .500.  No, I am not pinning this on Al, it is just an interesting correlation that continues to rear its ugly head.  Will Kevin Love go off when facing his former mentor in Minnesota?

Predictions:

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wolves drop this one, and I won’t be surprised if I’m bitching out JJ Barea while it happens.  That said, I’m going to go with … Final score: Timberwolves 112, Bobcats 105

Game 66: Sunday, 3/16, 6pm – Sacramento Kings @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Sunday’s game will conclude a 7 game road trip for the Kings and they are playing Saturday night in Chicago.  Congratulations Timberwolves, you were finally handed a scheduling “gimme”.  Now, don’t screw this up on your home court like that Knicks game from this past week.

Opponent to watch:

Isaiah Thomas – In two games thus far this season, Thomas has lit up the Wolves to the tune of 24ppg and 7.5apg, while shooting a scorching 59% from the field.

Predictions:

Again, the end of a long road tour for the Kings, who are playing in less meaningful games right now than the Wolves.  (See what I did there?)  Final score: Timberwolves 116, Kings 105

Wrap-up:

This week and the one prior really could have been the time for the Wolves to spark a little more excitement as we go through March.  Unfortunately, that Knicks loss at Target Center was simply deflating.  In any case, let’s go Wolves!

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 19

 

(photo credit: StarTribune.com)

Good times are coming for the Wolves?!  (Photo credit: StarTribune.com)

 

Setting the stage:

The past week was pretty kind to the Timberwolves, who took out Phoenix and Sacramento on their way to returning to .500 ball on the season (29-29).  The next two weeks includes a number of very winnable games and this is where the team just needs to get hot and stay hot, if they aren’t already in that area.  The Wolves have one more road game to finish up this road trip and then return to Target Center for a four game stand.

While I have written the playoffs off for this season, that doesn’t mean I can’t suggest a hot streak to bring them a little bit closer to that 8 seed.  The Wolves remain 5 games behind Phoenix, but would also need to leapfrog Memphis, who has a 4 game advantage on our team.  It is certainly going to be an uphill battle, all I ask is that they make it interesting.

Game 60: Monday, 3/3, 8pm – Timberpups @ Denver Nuggets (TV: FSN Plus)

Monday night in Denver will wrap up the five game road trip for the Pups and will give them an opportunity to go over .500.  The team is 4-1 since the all-star break and will have Sunday off in order to rest up a bit for the Denver air.  The Nuggets’ season is a lost cause as they have lost 10 of their last 11 games.  Hopefully that means the Wolves are catching them at the right time.

Opponent to watch:

Randy Foye – With Ty Lawson injured, I might be reaching here a bit.  However, Foye is averaging 19.6ppg in his last five outings and is coming on for the Nuggets.  As Wolves’ fans have experienced, this may not necessarily be a good sign, but hey, it is what it is.

Predictions:

I would normally suggest the Wolves take one on the chin here, closing out a five game road trip in Denver.  However, they had that huge break between games this past week and the Nuggets are looking abysmal of late.  Final score: Timberwolves 109, Nuggets 102

Game 61: Wednesday, 3/5, 7pm – New York Knicks @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Wolves took care of the Knicks at MSG very early on this season and I expect more of the same in this match-up.  Going into Sunday’s match-up with the Bulls, the Knicks have lost 11 of their last 13 games and the team is on the back page of the NY tabloids newspapers for all the wrong reasons.

Opponent to watch:

Carmelo Anthony – Melo is second in the league in scoring at 28.2ppg.  His team is 17 games under .500 and I still believe there’s a strong correlation here.  Fair or unfair, I’ve never been a fan of Melo and feel like he has underachieved in his career.  Despite outstanding statistical performances, he has yet to win much of anything.

Predictions:

While Corey Brewer will have his hands full, I expect the home team to have no problem here in their return to the Target Center.  Final score: Timberwolves 108, Knicks 97

Game 62: Friday, 3/7, 7pm – Detroit Pistons @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Pistons will host the Knicks and Bulls prior to Friday night’s match-up in Minnesota, so they will be equally rested for this game.  Heading into this week they are also on quite a losing streak, having dropped 7 of their last 8 games.  Despite how awful the Eastern Conference playoff picture looks, the Pistons find themselves in the lottery right now, with a 23-36 record heading into the week.

Opponent to watch:

Brandon Jennings – Remember when Jennings made fun of Ricky Rubio several years ago before he was drafted?  Yeah, I barely do too, as that feels about 12 years ago.  Well, Jennings leads the Pistons with 16.8ppg and 7.9apg and you can see where that has gotten the team in the standings.

Predictions:

Why does Joe Dumars still have a job?  Final score: Timberwolves 104, Pistons 95

Game 63: Sunday, 3/9, 6pm – Toronto Raptors @ Timberpups (TV: FSN Plus)

Maybe the most surprising team in the NBA this season (sans Portland?) the Raptors head into this week with a 32-26 record, which leads the Atlantic Division and puts the team in the 3 seed in the conference.  Read that entire sentence again.  Good grief.  I have no idea how this team is doing it but it does make me a bit frustrated to think that Dwane Casey could have been the Wolves long-term coach.

Opponent to watch:

DeMar DeRozan – There were times when Wolves fans believed they could steal DeRozan from Toronto for twelve cents on the dollar.  Those days are long gone as the SG is having a banner year with the team, averaging 22.7ppg, while also throwing in 4.5rpg and 3.9apg.

Predictions:

The Raptors took care of the Wolves back in January and this might be a tough one again.  Toronto has a game later today but are then off until Friday against Sacramento, before heading to the Target Center.  In other words, this team should be fresh.  Final score: Raptors 99, Timberwolves 95

Wrap-up:

Taking three out of four this week will go a long way to making the rest of the season a little more interesting.  The first three games this coming week should be W’s for the team.  If they drop any of them, the Pups will need to “steal” Sunday’s game against the Raptors.

Let’s go Wolves!

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 18

 

Biggest game of the year to date for the Twolves is this Tuesday night in Phoenix (Photo credit: GamblersPalace.com)

Biggest game of the year to date for the Twolves is this Tuesday night in Phoenix
(Photo credit: GamblersPalace.com)

 

Setting the stage:

The NBA trade deadline came and went without any roster movement for the Timberwolves, so it is up to the roster that started the season for the Pups to week through the bumps and bruises the rest of the way and try to sneak into the playoffs.  I say “sneak in” because there is still a lot of work to do and when the Suns are beating down the Spurs like they did this past week, making the playoffs is going to be no easy task.  In fact, that brings us right to this week’s first game.

Game 58: Tuesday, 2/25, 8pm – Timberpups @ Phoenix Suns (TV: FS North)

Both teams will be coming off of games on Sunday night.  The Wolves find themselves 6.5 games behind the Suns (and Mavs) for the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference.  I still believe Phoenix is the one team that could slip up the rest of the way.  You have to think that Minnesota absolutely needs to win this game if you have any hope or belief that the team will make the playoffs.  With one loss to the Suns already on this season’s belt, the Wolves can’t drop this one.

Opponent to watch:

Goran Dragic – Dragic very easily could have been an all-star in New Orleans last week.  He is putting up monster numbers for the Suns, averaging over 20 points and 6 assists per game to go along with a PER over 22.  Can Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea (insert snide comment about the trade deadline here) contain Dragic and give the Wolves a chance in this one?

Predictions:

This will be the third road game in four nights for the Wolves.  The Suns have been playing every other night at home for the past week going into this game.  The Wolves postseason hopes may depend on this game … but I’ve already declared those hopes to be DOA.  Final score: Suns 107, Timberwolves 104

Game 59: Saturday, 3/1, 9pm – Timberpups @ Sacramento Kings (TV: FS North)

In somewhat of a scheduling quirk, the Wolves will have off three days before Saturday’s game in Sacramento.  It will be interesting to see if the team flies back to Minnesota or stays on west coast time for the break in action.  The Kings will come into this game off of a Friday night meeting with the Lakers in LA.  Back in January, the Rudy Gay led Kings upset the Wolves at the Target Center – one of less than a handful of games that we can look back at and say “that shouldn’t have been a loss”.

Opponent to watch:

DeMarcus Cousins – Cousins is having a terrific season from a stats perspective, leading the Kings in points, rebounds, blocks, and steals.  (Steals?!)  Cousins had a solid game against the Wolves earlier in this season with 20 & 11 but also found himself in foul trouble going against Nikola Pekovic – who should be rounding himself back into form.

Predictions:

It is time to return the favor from January’s home loss.  With several days off, the Wolves should have no problem in this one.  The concern might be coming off of a deflating loss in Phoenix and seeing woeful body language and demeanor on the court.  Final score: Timberwolves 112, Kings 105

Wrap-up:

Well, you know my thoughts on the Wolves’ season and the rest of the way.  Tuesday’s game in Phoenix will either give the positivity police an opportunity to tell me to “go screw” or will have several more fans jumping off the bandwagon.  You may want to avoid Twitter on Tuesday night …

Let’s go Wolves!

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 17

 

Kevin Love in NOLA for All Star Weekend (Photo: Timberwolves Facebook Page)

Kevin Love in NOLA for All Star Weekend
(Photo: Timberwolves Facebook Page)

 

Setting the stage:

While we wait with baited breath for tonight’s All-Star Game (…), let’s take a look at the week ahead for the Timberwolves as they will have to come out of the break swinging.  With the win against the Nuggets before the break, the Wolves moved to 25-28 on the season and jumped percentage point(s) ahead of Denver, good for 10th place in the Western Conference.  The team is a full six games behind the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns for the 8 seed.

If you haven’t given up on the Wolves yet, you definitely want to keep an eye on the Suns, as they are seemingly more likely to come back to earth after the break.  The Suns did however win at the Target Center back on 1/8, so the Wolves are in that much more of a hole to dig out of.  The teams will face off two more times this year: 2/25 in Phoenix and 3/23 at Target Center.

Let’s get to this week’s games …

Game 55: Wednesday, 2/19, 7pm – Indiana Pacers @ Timberpups (TV: FS North & ESPN)

Tough way to begin your post all-star break for the Wolves, who will host the Eastern Conference leading, 40-12 Indiana Pacers this coming Wednesday.  The most complete team in the NBA in my opinion and proving it night in and night out.

Opponent to watch:

Paul George – Do I need to go there again?  You know what, I won’t.  George’s coming out season, after last year’s playoff run, has been a joy to watch.  22ppg, 6.4rpg, 3.4apg, and 1.79spg.  Imagine if this guy was on the Wolves?  Wait, he could have been?  (KAHNNNNN?!?!?!)

Predictions:

Even though the Pacers have a game on Tuesday night against Atlanta, they are too deep and too talented.  If the Wolves get back Nikola Pekovic and/or Kevin Martin, I still don’t think it is enough.  Final score: Pacers 96, Timberwolves 89

Game 56: Saturday, 2/22, 8pm – Timberpups @ Utah Jazz (TV: FS North)

The Wolves won a home-and-home against the Jazz in late January and there isn’t much to suggest this game should be any different.  The Jazz will be in Portland Friday night for a road game and will then have to fly back to Utah to take on our Pups … who should be well rested for this game.

Opponent to watch:

Derrick Favors – Favors is pretty quietly having a decent year now that the logjam in the Jazz frontcourt has worked itself out – maybe too much though.  Favors is averaging 12.9ppg, 9.0rpg and over 1 block per game.  Favors injured his hip this past Wednesday night and we’ll see how quickly he can get back to 100%.

Predictions:

All games moving forward for the Wolves are “must-win” – they cannot afford to lose one like this whatsoever.  Final score: Timberwolves 108, Jazz 92

Game 57: Sunday, 2/23, 8pm – Timberpups @ Portland Trailblazers (TV: FS North)

The Blazers are a ridiculous 19 games over .500 (36-17) at the all-star break and that is only good for the 5th seed in the Western Conference.  As a team, they are first in scoring and rebounds per game in the NBA, and fourth in assists per game.  Their defense is a liability and I still don’t see how this team is this good.  I must have a mental block on the Blazers, but I just don’t see them doing anything in the playoffs.

Opponent to watch:

LaMarcus Aldridge – Get ready for your now weekly, “who is the best power forward in the NBA?” rhetoric.  It seems like whoever has the ESPN game that night is anointed the best for 24-48 hours.  I like Aldridge as a player … if Love is going to be traded, I would highly prefer that LMA comes back to the team vs. Blake Griffin.  But neither is as good as Kevin Love.  Period.  Period!

Predictions:

Blazers will have Saturday night off to prepare for the Wolves and rest.  Final score: Blazers 114, Timberwolves 110

Wrap-up:

My predictions above aren’t exactly how you want to come out of the break and make your run towards the playoffs.  However, I just don’t see the Wolves making ground this week with two very tough opponents sandwiching what should be a victory in Utah.  Doh!

Let’s go Wolves!

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 16

Timberwolves bench

Setting the stage: 

Well, that was not a fun week of basketball for the Wolves.  They will enter this week with a 24-27 record, putting them in 11th place in the Western Conference, with a lot of room to make up.  The team has lost five of its last six heading into Monday night’s game with the Rockets.

To make matters worse, injuries are starting to pile up for the Wolves’ starters.  While they are somewhat fluke injuries, the amount of minutes these guys played early in the season made this somewhat predictable.  Nikola Pekovic is day to day, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t return until after the all-star break.  Kevin Martin broke his hand at the end of Friday night’s game against the Pelicans and is out indefinitely.  We know that Kevin Love has brought it night in and night out, but he looks gassed and sat out Saturday night.  If this were the NFL, Love would be listed as “Questionable” for each of the next two nights, as he has taken a beating over the past week.

So where does that put the Pups?  Simply said, in a very tough position.  While only one game back of the Nuggets right now (a big game coming this Wednesday night), the Wolves are four games behind Memphis and six games behind Golden State and Dallas for the 7th and 8th seeds.  When I wrote about surviving without Pekovic, I didn’t think the basketball gods would add insult to injury with what has happened to Martin and Love.

Game 53: Monday, 2/10, 7pm – Houston Rockets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North & NBA TV)

Despite missing a key ingredient back in November, the Rockets knocked off the Wolves in the only meeting between the teams back in November in Houston. Houston received huge games from Aaron Brooks, Jeremy Lin, and Patrick Beverley … notice a theme there? The Wolves’ backcourt members must show up Monday night.

Houston will be coming into this game off of a road win in Milwaukee on Saturday night. They should be fresh however, as prior to Saturday night’s game, the team had been off since a win at home against Phoenix last Wednesday.

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Harden missed the game back in November (and the Wolves still lost…) so this was supposed to be an opportunity to match up against Kevin Martin, but now we know that isn’t going to happen.  How can the Wolves (namely, Corey Brewer) contain ‘The Beard’?

Predictions:

I can’t see the Wolves pulling this one out without Martin and Pekovic.  Final score: Rockets 104, Timberwolves 96

Game 54: Wednesday, 2/12, 7pm – Denver Nuggets @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

The Nuggets will come into Wednesday’s game looking to complete a four game road swing on a positive note, with the prior game to this in Indiana to take on the Pacers.  (A little interesting how many teams include the Minnesota Timberwolves on their Eastern Conference road swings, isn’t it?!)

The Nuggets and Wolves will enter this game neck and neck in the standings, no matter what happens on Monday night for both teams. To say this is an important game is an understatement. The Nuggets have handed the Wolves two losses already this season, both in November. With only one more remaining (3/3 at Denver) on the schedule, the Wolves must win this one.

Opponent to watch:

Ty Lawson – Lawson has matched up well this season against the Pups, averaging 18.5ppg and 7apg. However, he is also turning the ball over quite a bit (4.0pg). Defense from Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea have left something to be desired for much of the season and it will be crucial to try and limit Lawson’s impact in this game.

Predictions:

This game closes out Denver’s road trip, so they might be a little worn out.  Add in the fact that the Wolves need this one and here you go: Final score: Timberwolves 105, Nuggets 104

Wrap-up:

Based on the predictions above, the Wolves would head into the all-star break with a 25-28 record … not exactly where many pegged the team to be at the break.  It is going to take an epic performance post all-star break for this team to get into the playoffs.  I hope they do not use the injury excuse heading into March and April, as this team was pretty healthy for much of the early months.

Can they do this?  Sure.  Do I expect this to happen?  If you haven’t been following my Twitter rants, let’s just say I have my suspicions unfortunately.  In any case, let’s go Wolves!

Game Preview: Dane Carbaugh tells us about the Blazers

There’s not much Dane Carbaugh can’t tell us about the Portland Trail Blazers. He is the All Everything of A Young Sabonis, which may eventually be published to paperback depending on how the Blazers finish their season, and does video breakdowns over at Blazers Edge.
Carbaugh is good people, follow him on Twitter. Click the link to do so, here.
If you wish to read what I had to say about the Wolves at a Young Sabonis, you may venture down that dark tunnel at your own risk.
1. Before we get going on tonight, how confident are Blazers finish with a top four seed in the Western Conference Playoffs this season?
I’m not sure they will finish in that place since they have been struggling against teams lately due to an increase in game tape on their offensive strategies. The other part of it is that the Blazers have a ridiculously tough March where they basically play everyone in the Western Conference playoff race without getting more than 1 day off for the duration. Of course, the Blazers have played the other top teams in the West quite well, so I’m not sure that would be a disappointment. Just so long as they avoid the Phoenix Suns in the first round — they are Portland’s kryptonite.
2. What will they do to expose the absence of Nikola Pekovic on offense? How do you believe they will attack Ronnie Turiaf who is starting in his place?
The best way to tell if Stotts is going to get Lopez involved early is to see if he has a play drawn up for him in the first two possessions. If he goes to him that early you can expect it throughout the game.
3. Why all the chatter surrounding Nicholas Batum and his defensive game? Who does he match up against tonight, and what worries you when looking at the Wolves available roster?
Don’t ask me about why, other than the fact that people like to push narratives. Two years ago people were still likening him to Scottie Pippen which is absolutely ridiculous. Other than shooting the three ball, there’s nothing Batum does better than Pippen did. Physically, his defense is all about his length. He’s not as laterally mobile as many think, and that gets him caught out. He gets put on opposing point guards because they aren’t quick enough to get around his arms and his first step combined.
That being said, it’s not as though he’s a bad defender, he just doesn’t live up to the impossibly-high Hall of Fame comparison unfairly placed upon him. Really, Batum can step up his game when the time comes he can lock a guy down. My guess is he gets put on whoever starts at SF to start the game but could transition to Kevin Martin if he gives Portland the same amount of trouble he game them last  time these two teams met. I don’t think Stotts moves him to Rubio unless Lillard is really having an off night defensively.
4. How do you prepare to defend the Kevin Love to Corey Brewer connection in transition? Besides making baskets, is there anthing – as an opponent – that can be done in terms of X’s and O’s to prevent such uncontested baskets?
That’s all down to whether the Blazers have scouted them properly. Portland’s transition defense has been everywhere from average to atrocious this year, and they have a habit of ball-watching when shots (threes) go up. Squaring the floor on the rotation is key — making sure there are always two wings above the break with a designated safety — and making sure that Brewer doesn’t leak out will most likely Batum’s assignment. The real improvement in their transition D has come when Batum is playing middle linebacker, directing traffic. He needs to be alert tonight since Love is such an elite talent with his passes.
5. How do you believe playing a physical, overtime game against the Indiana Pacers last night will affect tonight’s game? (If at all)  and who do you believe will emerge victorious?
That depends. I think it was a tough game but I don’t suspect the Trail Blazers are feeling deflated. They rode the Pacers the whole game and when it came down to crunch time, they basically had a few bad mistakes and a few bad blows of the whistle allow the game to slip through their fingers. Saying “good teams find ways to win those games” is sort of ridiculous, considering Portland has literally won those games this season. You win some, you lose some. And sometimes the Thunder lose to the Magic on a last-second breakaway dunk.
These teams have history and with Jay-Z reported to be in attendance, you best believe Damian Lillard will be looking to impress. I think Portland gets a win in a fairly ordinary game, 103-95.