Ricky Rubio faces Damian Lillard for the first time of their respective careers Monday night in Minnesota. Credit: Greg Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Portland Trail Blazers (24-23) Vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (18-26)

Merriam-Webster defines schadenfreude as follows:

Enjoyment obtained from the trouble of others

Merriam-Webster defines karma as follows:

The force generated by  a person’s actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of a person’s next existance

Three seasons ago, the Portland Trail Blazers were stricken with a number of debilitating industries. These injuries sidetracked the Blazers’ rise to the top of the Western Conference, and precipitated the blow-up and rebuild that begun with firing of Nate McMillan and ended with the drafting of Damian Lillard.

Heading into 2012-13, the Minnesota Timberwolves were on the short-list of Western Conference teams on the come-up. By the 4th day in February, Minny is eight games under .500, five and a half games behind the Rockets for the last Playoff spot in the Western Conference, and probably locked in an internal debate about whether to bring Kevin Love back in an attempt to pump-up his trade-ability, or shut him down for the rest of the season so they have time to develop a promotional program that most effectively lessens the blow when he eventually leaves for absolutely nothing as an Unrestricted Free Agent.

And why has everything turned upside down in the Twin Cities? Well how about this:

  • Chase Budinger suffered a lateral meniscus tear in his left knee on November 10th, underwent surgery on November 13th, has missed 38 games, and is out indefinitely
  • Malcolm Lee underwent surgery on his right knee on January 14th and his right hip on January 16th, has missed the last 25 games, and is expected to miss what remains of 12-13
  • Kevin Love underwent surgery to repair the 3rd and 4th metacarpals in his right hand January 15th, has missed 15 games, and is expected to be sidelined eight to 10 weeks in total
  • Nikola Pekovic returned January 30th against the LA Clippers after missing five straight games with with a contusion on his right thigh sustained against the Clippers on January 17th
  • Brandon Roy has missed the past 39 games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery in his right knee on November 19th, he has been and will be sidelined indefinitely
  • Alexey Shved returned to action January 30th against the LA Clippers after missing five games in a row with a sprained left ankle also sustained against the Clippers on January 17th
  • Ricky Rubio and J.J. Berea have both missed time for injuries sustained both this season and last season

And so, that leads me to the principals of schadenfreude and karma. Certainly Blazer fans can be forgiven for celebrating the fact that it’s not their team being run aground by faulty body parts. However, let me council reticence. Portland has been bitten by the injury bug more than once. Half a healthy season is impressive, but it by no means the Blazers are in the clear.

The Free Dictionary’s section on Idioms defines “once bitten twice shy” in the following way:

Something that you say which means when you have had an unpleasant experience you are much more careful to avoid similar experiences in the future

So, before you go getting all happy about Minnesota’s injury troubles, and how they benefit the Blazers, think about that.

Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Victor Claver, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson

Timberwolves Starting 5: PG Ricky Rubio, SG Luke Ridnour, SF Derrick Williams, PF Andrei Kirilenko, C Nikola Pekovic

The Blazers are 2-0 against the Timberwolves. They’ve beaten them once in Portland and once in Minneapolis. Winning on Monday, at the start of the Blazers’ second-to-last extended road trip, will ensure Portland owns the season series with Minnesota. That could come into play at some point, even if it probably won’t actually make that much of a difference. Whatever the case may be, wrapping up a season series against any opponent (better or worse than the Blazers) is always valuable.

Match-up wise, no Kevin Love and no Chase Budinger takes away two of the weapons the Wolves could use most effectively against the Blazers (inside scoring and shooting from the wings). A slowed-down Ricky Rubio and a hobbled Nikola Pekovic also limit the advantages Minnesota might have had or has over Portland.

Depending on Wesley Matthews’ relative health, the Timberwolves might have an advantage at the two spot. Victor Claver won’t be able to stay in front of Luke Ridnour. Claver’s height advantage is nullified, as well, because Victor doesn’t seem to be integrated into the offense all that much when he’s on the floor. If Wesley goes, things could be different.

Nikola Pekovic will be a handful for J.J. Hickson, but without Kevin Love to lock up and do battle with LaMarcus Aldridge, Pekovic’s damage will be more limited. Pek is a beast, but he’s not quite capable of winning a game all by himself.

The combined match-ups of Andrei Kirilenko, Nicolas Batum, and Derrick Williams should be pretty interesting. If Kirilenko gets the assignment of guarding Batum, and Williams shifts to LA in the post, look for the Blazers to isolate the Aldridge/Williams match-up (which tips in Portland’s favor). If Williams is made responsible for Nicolas Batum, look for Portland to highlight that one. Batum won’t be able to overpower Williams (as Aldridge will), but Nic should be able to shoot over Williams and probably beat him off the dribble.

On the defensive end for Portland, Batum versus Derrick Williams (if it shakes out like that, which I think it might for some of the evening) will also be an interesting battle. Batum is a much better defender on the perimeter, which means that a smart game-plan for the T-Wolves could be to have Williams take Nicolas into the post. I’m no expert on D-Will’s back to the basket ability, but I do know he has the athleticism to work Batum in the paint.

What to Watch For

  • Damian Lillard versus Ricky Rubio. Damian Lillard is this season’s Ricky Rubio (a highly anticipated point guard prospect who has at the very least lived up to the hype). Ricky Rubio, in 2012-13, is not last season’s Ricky Rubio. Ricky’s rookie campaign was prematurely cutoff by a knee injury that he’s still recovering from, he was snubbed from the BBVA Rising Starts whatever (of which Dame is an above the line participant), and his per game and per 36 minute numbers have dipped across the board. Ricky and Dame have yet to face off. I don’t expect that Rubio will be able to stay with Damian. It’s very possible that Dame will have a big night.
  • Can Portland avoid getting beaten by T-Wolves that shouldn’t beat them. If Portland loses on Monday, it probably won’t be because of great games from Minnesota’s starters and regular contributors. If the Timberwolves get a big game from somebody like Dante Cunningham, J.J. Berea, Mickale Gelabale, or anybody on Minny’s roster who averages around 20 minutes a night, the Blazers will lose.
  • Will there be carryover from Saturday from Portland’s bench (NOLAN SMITH). Portland’s bench had their best night of the season against the Jazz on Saturday. Just as a good game from a second-stringer from Minnesota means a likely win for the Wolves, so too will a good game from a Blazer reserve tip the scales in Portland’s favor. There will be nothing better for the ego (read value) of Nolan Smith that to have another effective evening. With Wesley Matthews maybe out and Ronnie Price and Sasha Pavlovic certainly out, there are going to be minutes for Smith again. He has to prove himself over and over at this point in his career. Hopefully that’s a good thing. Nolan doesn’t seem like the kind of dude to rest on a 13-point outing. Let’s hope I’m not wrong.

@mikeacker | @ripcityproject | [email protected]

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