Back to back games against 1-win teams is a pretty nice way to start a 5 game road trip, eh? After last night’s victory over Memphis, the Blazers take their show to Minnesota to take on the T-Wolves. Remember back in the day when the Blazers going to the Target Center felt like a loss waiting to happen? Honestly, I’m starting to forget those days as well. For the second night in a row, Portland will enter a game as the favorite. And for the second night in a row they will have to find a way to show up and win against a team with inferior talent. More than anything, winning on the rod is the most important thing a team can do if they want to put themselves in the ‘elite’ category.
(Sidenote: for those who want that division title, this game also carries some importance because Minnesota is in our division.)
These two teams played on Sunday in a match-up anticipated so much by the RCP that neither of us had any pre-thoughts about it. What resulted was a 113-96 pounding of Kurt Rambis’ crew and a general feeling in Blazer Nation that the sky is indeed not falling. Minnesota is clearly re-building and everyone knows it…including them. I mean the first few days of the season they were kind of cute, like a puppy you found off the streets. They beat New Jersey on a buzzer beater, hung with the Suns and Clippers on the road, nearly scared the Celtics. Awww. Look they’re even trying to run the Triangle Offense! And then over the past week the wheels have seemingly fallen all the way off. They went from ‘the little engine that could’ to ‘the little engine that can’t because there are no wheels’. They just got punished 146-105 by Golden State. Damn, homie indeed.
Minnesota is kind of the opposite of Memphis, which is kind of a weird statement but stick with it. I’m sure I offended a Minny fan but oh well. See, the Grizzlies have a ton of talent but can’t put together a team effort, or defense or any of that stuff that requires ‘work’. Their cupboard is full but they just don’t know how to cook. With Minny, as hard as they may try and as hard as they may work there is no avoiding that they just don’t have enough in the cupboard. They’re a team that can compete but they have to completely outwork you to do so, and we know with young teams in the NBA effort isn’t always a given. For pete’s sake key players in their rotation include Oleksiy ‘I would have made the perfect foreign 80s bad guy in the WWF or a crappy sitcome’ Pecherov, Sasha ‘I really should have been better friends with LeBron’ Pavolic, Ryan Hollins, Damien ‘yep I’m still in the league!’ Wilkins and Ramon ‘I got plenty money (but I’m kinda weak now) Sessions. And yes I’m laughing at all you Blazer fans who wanted Sessions over the summer. Laughing hard.
Corny jokes aside, Minny might have something if Kevin Love were healthy and Al Jefferson was all the way back. Unfortunately for them, both of those things are false. Jefferson still leads the way for the T-Wolves but is clearly still a little hampered by injuries as he’s only averaging 15.3 points and 6.1 boards. Jonny Flynn is showing that he was worth all the hype averaging 15 points a game but he only throws 3.5 dimes a game. I got love for you J Flynn but you can’t be only averaging more than 1.5 assists than Ryan Gomes!! Speaking of Gomes he and Corey Brewer round out what I would call the ‘decent’ portion of Minnesota. It never seems like either of these two really get better. It always feels like Gomes should be better than he is, and I’m not sure but I’m pretty sure Brewer still can’t shoot. Oh well.
On the Blazers side of things, you just want to see this team keep making steps in the right direction. This is a game that the Blazers can and should win. They have superior talent and Minny is another team struggling to get people in their building, so no issues with a rowdy opponent. They have to avoid playing down to their opposition. Play fluid team basketball on both ends because the competition is going to pick up sooner than later. You want to see Rudy and Martell pick it up, see LMA continue to work on the boards, see Andre Miller run this team. Hope that Blake isn’t just becoming a spot up shooter. Just the little things.
You don’t want to start monitoring Brandon Roy’s body language. That will get you a quick kick to the shin from this guy.
Keys to the game
Improve. Do things a little bit better than last night and things should be ok.
Show up. That sounds funnier than I meant it to. Minny may not have a ton of talent but they do have pride and they’re definitely looking to erase the last two games out of their memory. Games aren’t played on paper so despite the talent advantage the Blazers are still going to have to go out and win this one.
Execute offensively. Don’t be sloppy. Minnesota is not a good defensive team so move the ball and get great looks. Don’t settle for forced shots or turnovers.
Shut them down defensively. Oden has a battle inside. The guards have to watch out for penetration. Other than that what does Minny do well? They aren’t great shooters or rebounders and they don’t have a ton of guys they can just say ‘hey here’s the ball make a play’. Make the Triangle into something uglier than a triangle. Like two parallel lines or something.