Team Records: Minnesota (21-21) at Portland (32-11)
Game Info: 7 p.m., TV on CSNNW, Radio on 620 AM
Vegas Line: Portland -7
Refs: Danny Crawford, John Goble, James Williams
The Skinny: After a MVP caliber performance Thursday against the Nuggets, Aldridge leads the Blazers out to face Kevin Love and the Wolves at home. The Wolves have been one of the more disappointing teams in the NBA this year, currently on the outside of the playoff hunt looking in. The Wolves come into this game off their first close win of the season as they stole a win late in Oakland against the Warriors.
Last Time They Met: The Wolves took advantage of a Blazers team playing its fourth game in five nights and went up big early. A late Portland run made it interesting but the Wolves held on for a convincing win. Pekovic and Love combined for 59 points in Minnesota’s win.
Projected Timberwolves Lineup:
PF: Kevin Love (UCLA, 6th Season) – 25 PPG, 13 RPG, 4.1 APG
SF: Corey Brewer (Florida, 7th Season) – 11.4 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.6 APG
C: Nikola Pekovic (Montenegro, 4th season) – 18.2 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1 APG
SG: Kevin Martin (Western Carolina, 10th Season) – 19.1 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.1 APG
PG: Ricky Rubio (Spain, 3rd season) – 8.6 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 8.2 APG
Player to Watch: Ricky Rubio (pictured at right) – Ricky Rubio can see and make passes that others can only dream of. Rubio’s ability to feed the ball in tight spaces that most players wouldn’t see, let alone be able to complete, is amazing. Rubio is also a force on defense, forcing steals at a very high rate. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Rubio’s offense is, at best, sporadic. Rubio is a very poor shooter, making only 35% of his attempts this season. Rubio’s high this season is 21 points, and that was only because he shot 9-10 from the line. The other risk with Rubio has been his health as Ricky missed much of his first two NBA seasons with injuries. Still, when healthy as he is now, he is a perfect fit for Minnesota’s offense, content to create for others and simply run the offense like few in the NBA can.
Did You Know?: Head coach Rick Adelman is the active leader in NBA coaching wins and is currently eighth all-time with 1022 victories.
Song of the Day: “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from the “Lion King”. The Blazers will help that Minnesota can’t feel the Love Saturday night. Enjoy:
Minnesota: Questionable-PG Ricky Rubio (Ankle)
Re-Evaluating Minnesota: Failure to Win in the Clutch
Minnesota has a point differential this season of +5, which ranks seventh in the NBA. According to ESPN’s “Relative Percentage Index” which calculates a team’s expected record based on the “Pythagorean 16.5 Method”, which is the basketball version of Bill James’s famous method for calculating expected baseball records, Minnesota’s expected record so far this year is 29-13, eight wins below where they actually are (Portland’s btw is 31-12, meaning Portland is about where you’d expect them to be). The reason for this discrepancy is twofold. First, Minnesota has nine 20+ point victories this season, which tends to skew their point differential higher. Second, Minnesota is 1-5 in games decided by three or less and 7-14 in games decided by nine or less. There are many reasons a team can fail to win close games but it probably just comes down to variance more than anything else and should balance out over the course of the season. Or at least it better or Minnesota is going to be lottery-bound again, instead of playoff bound as they hoped.
The Bottom Line:
Portland wins if: They limit Pekovic. Love and Martin are going to do what they do on offense but the real x factor is Pekovic. If the Blazers can limit his effectiveness, they should be able to win this one.
Minnesota wins if: They make the Blazers play sloppy. The Wolves force 16.4 turnovers a game, good for second in the NBA and just a hair behind Miami in first. If the Wolves can force a lot of turnovers and make Portland play sloppy, they should be able to go 2-0 against the Blazers Saturday night.