Up-and-down road trip
The Portland Trail Blazers have been the epitome of confusion throughout their current road trip. Wins against the New York Knicks and Memphis Grizzlies are outstanding for this ball club, but a beat down from the Toronto Raptors shows just how young they actually are.
Matchup: Portland (17-15) @ Minnesota Timberwolves (15-14)
Venue: Target Center
Time: 5:00 PM PT
Date: Saturday, Jan. 5, 2012
Inconsistency has plagued this team, but if they can come out on top by the time they head back home, it will have been a successful trip.
The Trailblazers defeated Minnesota 103-95 earlier in the season. (Photo: AP)
Game Notes/How They Match Up
The Trail Blazers and the Minnesota Timberwolves have already faced off once this season, and the result was a 103-95 victory in Portland’s favor.
Like the Memphis Grizzlies, whom the Blazers just played, Minnesota has looked to their defense to win games. They allow just 95 points per contest, which is good enough for sixth in the league, and they pull down the fourth most rebounds at 46 per game.
Portland has had trouble on defense this season, but it’s coming off a performance where it held its opponents to just 84 points.
Offensively, the Blazers will have the edge here, but not by much. They have more star power on offense, but they have far less depth. How well the Blazers play could come down to how well their stars perform.
What to Watch: Portland
Getting production from Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard is going to be crucial in this contest.
The Timberwolves aren’t a high-scoring group, but the Blazers don’t have the bench presence to save the day if the starters don’t click. Minnesota’s defense is going to look to shut down the Blazers version of the Big Three, and if they do, where are the Blazers going to turn?
Damian Lillard has to be the player setting up the offense, but don’t be surprised if it’s Nicolas Batum who has the biggest game. He’ll have an opportunity in this one to not only score against Andrei Kirilenko, but to get his teammates involved.
The small forward has been fantastic at collecting assists as of late, and his expanded role will suit him nicely against Minnesota.
What to Watch: Minnesota
The strategy while playing Minnesota Timberwolves is as simple as it comes.
Don’t let them score.
Minnesota is 7-0 this season when they score at least 100 points. We know they have trouble scoring on a regular basis, and we know they don’t reach triple-digits very often; but when they do, they are tough to beat because their defense is also in effect.
LaMarcus Aldridge will have his hands full with Kevin Love Saturday night. (Photo: Don Ryan/AP)
Kevin Love is obviously the biggest threat to put the ball in the basket. He is the kind of player who can score at the three-point line or at the rim, and he’s averaging a team-high 18.2 points through this point in the year.
Speaking of Kevin Love, could we really go anywhere other than the power forward position for the key matchup?
It’s true that J.J. Hickson versus Nikola Pekovic is going to be entertaining to watch, and that Batum versus Kirilenko has big-time implications; but any time you have two All-Stars facing off in a one-on-one battle, you know where the focus is going to be.
These two players are arguably the two best power forwards in the game, and while Love may have the edge in the rebounding category, Aldridge has the scoring edge at this point in the season.
Who will win this battle? That has yet to be seen. But if any other position steals the show, it’s going to be a big surprise come Saturday night.
Portland: OUT—Meyers Leonard
Minnesota: OUT—Brandon Roy, DAY-TO-DAY—Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love
Although it’s tough to trust this team at this point in the season, let’s hope they can carry the momentum of Friday night into Saturday’s contest with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Blazers 94 – Timberwolves 89
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