The Minnesota Timberwolves begin their four-game West coast road trip on Friday night vs. the Portland Trailblazers, at the Rose Garden.
The Wolves are 5-5 on the year, 2-2 on the road, 2-2 vs. Western Conference foes and tied for 2nd in the Northwest division, at .500. The Portland Trailblazers are 5-6 on the season, 3-3 at the Rose Garden (home), 4-5 vs. Western Conference opponents and ranked last in the Northwest division.
The Timberwolves are looking to avoid a fourth consecutive loss, while Portland had won three straight games until their loss to Phoenix on Wednesday.
The TWolves may have lost three-straight games, however there's certainly some optimism for Wolves fans. Wednesday night, we had the pleasure to see Kevin Love back in action for the first time this season. After roughly four weeks, Love's hand has healed enough to the point where he can stroll into the arena and drop 34pts & 14reb on the Nuggets...in a loss.
Wednesday night's loss to Denver also marked the return of Nikola Pekovic from an ankle injury (after missing two games) and J.J. Barea's return from a mid-foot sprain (after missing five games).
The TWolves now have twelve healthy players after struggling through a few games with 9-10 healthy guys. Ricky Rubio (rehabbing from reconstructive knee surgery), Chase Budinger (recovering from knee surgery after tearing his lateral meniscus) and Brandon Roy (recovering from athroscopic knee surgery). I'm sure we'd all love if we got another surprise and Ricky Rubio made his return on Friday...but I can say with almost certainty that, that won't happen.
The Blazers will be without swingman Elliot Williams who tore his achilles during training camp and is likely out for the entire season. Portland's starting center J.J. Hickson sat out their last game (a loss to Phoenix). He was dealing with a shoulder injury, though he said after the game it wasn't his choice to sit as he was 'ready to give it a go'. I expect he'll play and start on Friday night. Nicolas Batum had been dealing with the flu earlier this week, but he did play (33 min) on Wed. vs. Phoenix, I'd assume he'll be in the lineup, again on Friday, as well.
Minnesota's last game was that 7-point loss to the Denver Nuggets, 94-101. The Wolves were up by 17 points just prior to halftime however the Nuggets outscored them 36-57 in the second half, for the Denver victory. Kevin Love finished with 34pts, 14reb, 2ast, 2stl, 1blk; J.J. added 12 pts (on 4-of-7 shooting from deep), 4reb, 3ast, 1stl; Pek added 10pts, 7reb, 1blk and Kirilenko finished with 7pts, 8reb, 2ast, 3stls, 1blk.
If it's one thing the Wolves need to do a better job of, it's getting more of their players involved in the offense. Kevin Love took 25 attempts on Wednesday night and they had just three players (Love, J.J., Pek) in double figures.
Portland's last game came against the Phoenix Suns, also on Wednesday night. The result was a 27-point loss. The Suns outscored the Blazers every quarter and cruised to this comfortable victory. Rookie Damian Lillard finished with 24pts, 3ast, 1stl; Batum added 13pts, 5reb, 4ast, 1slt; Aldridge added 12pts, 7reb, 1ast and Wes Matthews chipped in 13pts, 3reb, 2ast and 2stls.
I'm sure we'll hear plenty about Nicolas Batum in this one. Batum was, of course Minnesota's main offseason free agent target. The Wolves offered Nicolas a large 4-year $40-45million offer sheet. The Blazers ended up matching the offer (though there were discussions of a sign-and-trade that would've likely sent Derrick Williams to Portland...but those fell through) and Batum is now an early Most Improved Player of the Year candidate.
Another headline we'll hear plenty about is Brandon Roy. Roy was originally supposed to return to the court on Friday, in a homecoming to Portland. Unfortunately he underwent knee surgery earlier this week and won't be back on the floor (if at all) until mid-late December.
Let's take a look at the probable starting lineups for both teams...
The Trailblazers certainly have a lot of offensive firepower in that starting lineup, three starters averaging 19-20 points a game, another just over 16 a game and Hickson averaging a double-double, 10-10 a night. There starters are quite good on O, but they may have one of the worst benches in the NBA. A second unit of Ronnie Price, Sasha Pavlovic, Victor Claver, Jared Jeffries and Meyers Leonard should struggle mightily against J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved, Josh Howard, Dante Cunningham and Greg Stiemsma.
Last season the TWolves went 2-1 vs. Portland, winning the season series (3/3 @POR, 122-110W; 3/7 in MIN, 106-94W; and 4/1 @POR 106-119L).
Another thing I'll be keeping an eye on is whether or not Derrick Williams registers another 'did not play--coach's decision'. It was his first DNP-CD of the season and if Dante Cunningham continues to produce consistently, I reckon he'll be traded before we see him in extended minutes on the floor in a TWolves uniform.
The key to this one will be containing their 'Big Four' (Lillard, Wes, Batum & LA) and getting some more of the TWolves players involved in the offense. Minnesota hitting their free throws wouldn't hurt either.
That's all for now, tipoff for this one is set for 9pmCT and a full gameday recap can be found on this site following the final horn. Until then, thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!