Game Details: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN. 5:00 PM. TV: CSN. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM)
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6′2″, Utah), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6′5″, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6′9″, France), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6′11″, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6′11″, UMass)
Projected Minnesota Starting Lineup: PG Luke Ridnour (#13, 6’2″, Oregon), SG Wesley Johnson (#4, 6’7″, Syracuse), SF Michael Beasley (#8, 6’10”, Kansas State), PF Kevin Love (#42, 6’10”, UCLA), C Darko Milicic (#31, 7’0″, Yugoslavia)
Portland’s match-up Friday with the Northwest Division basement dwelling Minnesota Timberwolves is bigger than one might expect when first looking at the disparity in records between these two teams. Why is this game so important? Mainly because the Blazers are in the midst of getting their collective act together, and are starting to put together a strong run that could dictate where not only this season goes, but what will happen when 2010-11 is finally in the books.
The Blazers have beaten the Timberwolves 13 straight times. Holding on to that record is good for the statistics page, and is a big moral booster across the board. The Timberwolves have lost three of their last five. Falling victim to a team that struggles every night out for wins is the opposite of a moral booster, let’s call it a moral-deflater. Those two things are part of the reason Friday’s is an important game. There’s another that might be even more important. Friday gives the Blazers a winning road trip.
Let’s take a second to look back at the not so distant past. I’m sure we all remember where we were November 28th through December 3rd. Those were the dates Portland dropped four straight road games, including losses at New Jersey, a 10-win team as of this writing, and Washington, an eight-win team. Although that was the week it seemed the season, and maybe the franchise as we know it, was over, it wasn’t really the start of the Blazers’ problems winning on the road. Portland is 7-14 on the road, and has completed only one winning road trip, its first. A winning road trip would be a big step for this club, and though the damage done by that horrible week in late November early December hasn’t completely cleared, winning Friday would prove that this team is well on its way down the road to recovery.
Strategically, Portland is better than Minnesota at every position. Where the Blazers will have to be pay the most attention, especially on the defensive end, is at the two forward positions. Micheal Beasley, beleaguered as his short NBA career has been, is a fantastic player, easily one of the top young players in the league. He can attack the hoop, he can shoot from almost anywhere, and he is a world class athlete. Throw in his hairstyle choices, and you’re looking at a player that, given the right set of circumstances, could be a franchise in his own right. Whether or not that kind of thing will ever come for Beasley remains to be seen. What is known, though, as that he can bring it. When Portland and Minny battled in the Rose City way back on the 17th of December LaMarcus Aldridge and Beasley went toe to toe. Beasley got the better of LA early with a poster dunk, bu LaMarcus repaid the favor late in the game with a poster of his own. Beasley went for 33 points in the Wolves loss, bettered by LA’s career-high tying 36.
At the other forward position is someone Oregonians know very well. Kevin Love. There’s a lot that can be said about Love. We know all about his ability to gobble up rebounds, but this season Love has also proven that he can be a force on offense. Love has recorded five nights of scoring 30-plus points, including a 43-point burst in a loss to Denver, and a 31-point 31-rebound effort in a win at home against the Knicks. On the season, Love is averaging 21 points and nearly 16 rebounds a game, both improvements over his second-year numbers.
Love and Beasley, like Aldridge, are names that have been tossed around for All-Star selection. All three are deserving, whether Love and Beasley are selected will hinge primarily on the fact that Minnesota has yet to reach double figures in the win column. Friday will be yet another chance for LA to prove his worthiness against some of his top young competitors at the forward positions.
As for the role players with Minnesota. At the risk of sounding mean, I’m going to say that top to bottom, the Timberwolves roster is all role players. Luke Ridnour is decent in the open floor, Wesley Johnson has probably unlimited athletic ability, guys like Corey Brewer and Martell Webster are knock-down shooters, but looking at Minnesota as a whole, there is not a lot of offensive fire power outside of Kevin Love and Michael Beasley. Limiting Love and Beasley, and not letting a guy like Martell have a career night, should be enough for Portland to claim a W and a winning trip.
One final reason Portland needs to win Friday. Right now the Blazers’ record stands at 19-17. We are at the point as fans where we can, and should, be happy that Portland has poked their head above .500. However, after Friday the Blazers come home to face the Miami Heat. It’s a winnable game, as every game is, but the Heat are cruising right now, having won seven in a row, and nine of their last ten. A loss to Minnesota, followed by a loss to Miami, and Portland is right back at even. Two steps forward are always negated by two steps back.