The Portland Trail Blazers (22-4) take on the Minnesota Timberwolves (12-13) in the Target Center tonight. It is the last matchup of the Trail Blazers’ current road trip (on which they are 3-0), and their fourth game in five nights.
They will be met by international sensation Ricky Rubio and Oregon native Kevin Love in their toughest road game of the season thus far. Love, who has averaged an otherworldly 25.0 points and 13.6 rebounds per game this year, is in competition with Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge for a spot on the All-Star team in February.
Portland Trail Blazers: CJ McCollum participated in 3-on-3 practice last Sunday, but is not yet ready to return. He is, however, getting incredibly close. Whether or not the Trail Blazers use him when he is 100% is up to Terry Stotts, who has led the Trail Blazers to an unexpected level of success without him. McCollum will be inactive for tonight’s game.
Minnesota Timberwolves: The Timberwolves could be without their starting shooting guard Kevin Martin for a second straight game due to a non-specified knee injury, though his status remains up in the air. Dante Cunningham is also questionable with an ankle injury. Backup small forward Chase Budinger received clearance for full-contact practice this morning as he recovers from knee surgery, but he will undoubtedly remain inactive for tonight’s game.
Keys to the game:
Damian Lillard has to protect the ball. He’s done a great job of this all year, but Rubio specializes in forcing turnovers, stealing the ball 2.9 times per game on average. The little bugger (term of endearment) is quick and aggressive. Lillard played nearly 38 minutes of beautiful basketball against the Cavaliers last night, but cannot expose any exhaustion for Rubio to feast on.
LaMarcus Aldridge has to outplay Kevin Love. Aldridge was able to get the better of him early in their careers when Love was adjusting to the NBA, but the tables have balanced in recent seasons. It’s truly anyone’s game between these two. Both will be expected to carry their team, because the winner of this matchup will likely determine the overall victor.
The Trail Blazers have to be ready to rebound. Minnesota is just as talented as Portland on the offensive glass, which is saying a lot. They also happen to attempt the 6th most 3-pointers per game at the 20th highest success rate. This means we’re going to see a lot of deep shots go awry, so the Trail Blazers can’t let Love and Pekovic scoop them up for easy points.