Minnesota Timberwolves 94, Portland Blazers 109

Photo Credit: AP

Photo Credit: AP

Game Summary

Closing out the western swing, the Timberwolves visited the Rose Garden Saturday night to take on the Trail Blazers.  Minnesota entered the game on a four game losing streak while the Blazers still have hopes of grabbing the bottom seed in the western conference playoffs.

Unfortunately, more changes were needed in the Wolves starting lineup Saturday night as both Kirilenko and Pekovic were scratched from the game.  The Pups starting lineup consisted of – Rubio, Ridnour, Gelabale, Williams, and Stiemsma.  The Blazers opened up with Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, and JJ Hickson.

Going into the first timeout / stoppage of play, the Blazers had built a 7 point lead, 17-10.  Greg Stiemsma was already on the bench with two quick fouls.  With Pekovic’s injury it was a given that Chris Johnson would get minutes Saturday night, but Stiemsma’s inability to stay on the court and avoid foul trouble has become a bit nauseating for Wolves fan (or at least one of them…).

The Wolves defense struggled to do anything to stop the Blazers in the 1st quarter, as the home team held a 31-19 lead after the first twelve minutes.  Story of the quarter is vastly similar to the past few weeks (months?) for the Pups: 9-24 on FG’s for 38% and 0-4 from 3PT range, while the Blazers were 12-23 from the field for 52% and 3-5 from 3PT range.

The 2nd quarter was pretty slow going, or at least it felt that way.  The Pups outscored the Blazers 25-20 in the quarter but trailed by six points, 51-45.  While the Wolves were able to cut into the lead, no one stood out on the team beyond Derrick Williams (broken record alert).  The Blazers cooled off in the 2nd quarter and that felt like the crux of why the Wolves were back in the game more than anything else.

Here are a few halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • I’m just going to assume that Ricky Rubio is going to be working on his jumper all offseason and will be a solid offensive threat next year.  (Fantasy league stud in 13/14)
  • An underrated move from several weeks ago was the Blazers acquisition of Eric Maynor.
  • Chris Johnson needs more PT.  Please!

The game more or less fell apart for the undermanned Wolves in the second half.  The Blazers built a 17 point lead in the 3rd quarter at several points.  Without Pekovic, the Wolves had no answer for JJ Hickson, who hit the double-double threshold early and kept going.

I’m not sure if Alexey Shved has hit another wall or not, but Adelman is not giving him heavy minutes and it really can’t, or at least shouldn’t be, due to what Ridnour and Barea are doing on the court for the team.  At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Blazers held an 83-71 lead.

The Wolves made several very small runs but never truly threatened to take over the game in the 4th quarter.  Luke Ridnour caught fire early in the quarter, but it felt more like a nice run by an individual player vs. the start of a big move that would help catapult the team to take over the game.  Sure enough, Terry Stotts would call the appropriate timeouts and get his team back in gear.

The Blazers outscored the Wolves 58-50 in the second half and pulled out the 109-94 victory.  The win completed the season sweep for the Blazers over the Wolves, which wound up being the fifth time in six seasons that Portland has been able to claim this feat.  Given all of the missing cogs in the Wolves machine, this really should not have been a surprise for anyone watching the game on NBA TV.

While Rubio flirted with another triple-double (12, 9, and 9), he continues to turn the ball over too much and opposing teams are laying off of him on the offensive end, daring him to shoot jumpers.  Unfortunately for us Wolves fans, that plan is working, as Rubio continues to struggle to with his shot.

Rather than harping on that particular part of the game, I found myself asking what would be the better scenario for the Wolves moving forward more often than not while watching the second half.  Is it moving forward with Kevin Love, Derrick Williams, both, or the supplemental players that the team can put together by moving one or the other in the future?  I need to think about this a lot more before putting down my thoughts on paper.

Keys of the Game

  • Talent / Health – I am absolutely copping out on this one, as this claim could be made for most of the season.  The Pups were missing way too much talent on the floor in Saturday’s game at the Rose Garden.
  • Shooting – The Wolves shot under 40% again for the game and only made 1-12 3PT’s.  While the team continues to show an ability to get to the FT line, they missed 11 FT’s, going 25-36 from the charity stripe.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. JJ Hickson – Hickson finished with 18 and 16 on the evening and torched Stiemsma and CJ throughout the evening.
  2. Damian Lillard – Newsflash, Lillard is good, putting up 24, 6, and 4 for the future ROY, and a game high +22 in the +/- category.
  3. Derrick Williams – Williams missed his season high by one point but still put up a 23 and 8 for the Wolves and was probably the lone bright spot for the team.

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 3/2/13

20130302-122214.jpgSetting the stage:

The million dollar question at this point is “who is in and who is out?” The Timberwolves conclude their western journeySaturday night in Portland and at the time of writing, we don’t know who will be available for the team. Beyond the “normal” group of players that remain out, will Andrei Kirilenko or Nikola Pekovic be ready for Saturday’s game? As soon as we know more, we’ll drop it into the comments section below.

Our Pups come off a loss on Thursday night to the Lakers, which was the team’s fourth loss in a row, and 20th out of their last 24 games. You don’t need a calculator to know that this isn’t very good. The latest losing streak has dropped the team’s record to 20-35. While still in the hunt for the playoffs, the Blazers have also been in a mini free-fall over the past few weeks and are on a 1-8 slide to close out February. Portland is currently 26-31 on the season and four games behind the Rockets for the 8th seed in the conference, with the Lakers also two games ahead of them for that final seed/spot in the playoffs.

Portland has taken care of the Wolves in each of their three prior meetings this season. While the games have been close and enjoyable to watch, the Wolves have found ways to lose. This includes letting Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews do whatever they want from the Blazers backcourt positions.

Player to watch:

Nicolas Batum – Given Stephen Curry’s 54 point explosion at MSG this week, why wouldn’t there be salt in the wound for Pups fans on Saturday night? Kirilenko has been great, probably the team MVP, but he isn’t going to be around in a few years whereas Batum looks like he is really coming into his own this season. I just expect to see a lot of “what could have been” and “imagine if he was with the Wolves” comments and tweets. While putting up strong performances in the first two meetings between the two teams, Batum really struggled in his last meeting with the Wolves, as AK47 was able to shut him down. Batum finished that game with more turnovers (7) than points (4). I expect to see some type of revenge on Saturday night.

Match-up to watch:

Ricky Rubio vs. Damian Lillard. Rubio just missed a triple double on Thursday night against the Lakers and it seems like he has been flirting with one quite a bit lately. The NBA can hand Damian Lillard the Rookie of the Year trophy right now if they really wanted to. He has been phenomenal for the Blazers this season and has not hit the rookie wall at all. There have only been four games to this point in the season in which Lillard has not reached double digits in scoring.

Given that Rubio now seems to be truly healthy, this match-up should be a lot of fun to watch/monitor and should pack the highlight reel.

Predictions:

I don’t see the Wolves pulling this one off, particularly if AK47 and/or Pekovic are out or severely hampered with their nagging injuries.

Final score prediction: Twolves 86, Blazers 101

Three stars of the game predictions:

1. Nicolas Batum
2. Wesley Matthews
3. Ricky Rubio

Let’s go Wolves!