Two of the NBA’s best power forwards meet for the second time this season tonight when the Portland Trail Blazers (32-11) host the Minnesota Timberwolves (21-21). LaMarcus Aldridge will try to help his team get back the game they lost in Minnesota on December 18th (109-120).
That game was the last in a four-game road trip and the Blazers struggled early offensively. At one point in the second quarter, the Timberwolves found themselves with a 32 point lead. Aldridge finished the game with 15 points and 14 rebounds but made just 7 of 22 shots.
Fast forward to Thursday where Aldridge was anything but ordinary. Before the Trail Blazers matchup with the Nuggets, the All-Star team starters were announced. Aldridge finished fifth in fan voting among Western Conference frontcourt players, leaving him without a starting position. He then proceeded to torch the Nuggets for a career-high 44 points, scoring the team’s final 15 points in the 110-105 victory.
So was being snubbed what fueled his career performance? “It was nothing about that,” Aldridge said. “We lost two games and we needed this win.” I’m not sure that’s the whole truth but it was encouraging to see Aldridge put the team on his back.
Kevin Love was fortunate enough to secure a starting position on the All-Star team for the first time in his career. Love will join Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant as the frontcourt starters. There is no doubt that the depth of the power forward position hurt Aldridge’s chances of starting. Even if he is playing at an MVP level, being from a smaller market and not being seen by the national audience will always hinder Aldridge’s All-Star voting outcome.
Portland Trail Blazers:
- No injuries to report. The Trail Blazers are the only team in the NBA to use the same starting five in every game this season.
- Ricky Rubio (ankle) is expected to play after turning his ankle last night against Golden State.
- Kevin Love (ankle) is also expected to play. He also turned his ankle last night.
Keys To The Game
LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Kevin Love. Could there be any other matchup to focus on? These are two of the top power forwards in the NBA with both being the best players on their respective teams. In the first meeting this season, Love bested Aldridge by putting up 29 points and 15 rebounds. On the season, their numbers are very similar. Love is averaging 25.0 points and 13.0 rebounds while Aldridge is averaging 24.7 points and 11.6 rebounds. When these two players have the chance to duel, it is always fun to watch.
Control The Paint. 72-34. Those were the points scored in the paint last meeting. The Timberwolves scored 72 of their 120 points in the paint. That number renders me speechless. It was the most given up by the Trail Blazers this season and has been one of the problems for the Blazers all year. I mentioned the offensive production of Love but Nikola Pekovic contributed 30 points on 14-19 shooting. Only two of his made field goals were outside the paint (and I mean barely outside). The Blazers will need to do a better job protecting the rim if they want hand the Timberwolves a loss.
Damian Lillard. Lillard has played very well against the Timberwolves. In five games, he has averaged 25.8 points and shot 47 percent from three-point range. He finished the first meeting in Minnesota with 36 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. He only contributed 11 points in Thursday’s win against the Nuggets and must look to score tonight. Along with Aldridge, Lillard will most likely be in line for an All-Star reserve spot. Tonight’s game could be the perfect opportunity to impress the coaches and secure him that position.