At 6:00 pm PST, the Portland Trail Blazers (37-18) will host the Minnesota Timberwolves (27-28) for their fourth and final meeting this season. The Trail Blazers can take the season series with a victory and will be looking for their third straight win against Minnesota.
The Trail Blazers snapped a three game losing streak with a win against the Jazz on Friday (102-94). It marked the first time since the 1997-1998 season that the Trail Blazers have won their first three meetings against Utah. If I had to award a most impressive player award for that game, it’d go to Robin Lopez. Lopez recorded 12 points and 18 rebounds and even put an exclamation point on the win with an authoritative dunk. Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews continued to play well in LaMarcus Aldridge’s absence combining for 51 points.
Tonight the Trail Blazers face a team they are very familiar with. The Timberwolves seem to always battle the Trail Blazers better than any other team (with the exception of maybe the Thunder) and they are hungry. The Timberwolves are currently 10th in the West but are on a three game winning streak.
Kevin Love has only played in two of the three meetings this year. The last meeting (February 8), Love was sidelined with a quad injury. He is averaging 22.0 points against the Trail Blazers this season which is higher than his career average of 18.4 points against Portland. Last night, Kevin Love recorded his first career triple-double against the Jazz posting 37 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists. The Trail Blazers will have a hard time dealing with Love as he can post up inside or pop out for a three-pointer. Without LaMarcus Aldridge or Joel Freeland, Robin Lopez will have to have another big night.
Portland Trail Blazers:
- LaMarcus Aldridge is out resting a groin injury. He will be reevaluated sometime next week.
- Joel Freeland is still out with an MCL sprain. Freeland was seen putting up shoots in pre-game warm-ups on Friday.
- Meyers Leonard will also be out due to a sprained ankle.
- Nicolas Batum played through gastroenteritis on Friday. He will be a game time decision.
- Kevin Martin will be out as he recovers from a broken thumb. Martin will see a specialist on Monday to evaluate his status.
- Ronny Turiaf will be out after suffering a bone bruise in his right knee on Wednesday against the Pacers.
- Nikola Pekovic has missed the last 11 games with a bruised ankle but will be a game time decision tonight. In two meetings with the Trail Blazers this season, Pekovic has totaled 53 points and 20 rebounds.
Keys To The Game
Robin Lopez vs. Kevin Love/Nikola Pekovic. As mentioned, Lopez will have to have another huge game inside for the Trail Blazers to win. Their depth inside is extremely depleted and the Timberwolves know it. Thomas Robinson might be able to help but he has yet to seize his opportunities when they are presented to him. The Timberwolves game plan should include a heavy does of Love and Pekovic. Pekovic hasn’t played a lot of minutes recently due to injury so he may be winded late in the game. If Pekovic plays, the Trail Blazers should try to establish Lopez’ game early and hope he can wear Pekovic down. Containing Love will be a difficult task if Lopez is otherwise occupied.
Nicolas Batum. It seems as though Batum is the only starter that has failed to step up in the absence of Aldridge. Granted, he was battling illness before the game on Friday and persevered through it to put in 25 minutes. In the last two games, Batum has scored eight points and three points respectively. He is averaging 16.0 points against Minnesota this season and even put in 20 points in their first meeting. Batum will need to get something going tonight in order to help his team win. If he can’t do it scoring the ball, at least he could look to rebound or get the ball to the open man.
Rotations. Terry Stotts has done a good job switching up the rotations in order to create offense without Aldridge. Stotts went 11 deep on Friday and might use them all again tonight. Again I must note that Thomas Robinson has been handed the opportunities but hasn’t fully delivered. Mo Williams will need to continue his recent scoring success and help give Lillard some rest. C.J. McCollum should see minutes and will need to not only provide offense but be defensively efficient as well. If Will Barton has to step in for Batum, he will need to show his versatility like he did against the Jazz on Friday.