Team Records: Minnesota (18-19) at Portland (18-18)
Game Info: 7 p.m., TV on CSNNW, Radio on 750 the Game
Vegas Line: Portland -6
Refs: Eddie F. Rush, Kevin Cutler, Pat Fraher.
The Skinny: This Blazers team is at a crossroads. With potential major roster moves coming and a big 7-game road trip starting next week, Portland needs to get back on track if they want to avoid dropping back to the lottery. The Wolves come to town tonight having already passed their win total from last year and although they have struggled of late, they are one of the NBA’s surprises this year.
Last Season: Portland swept Minnesota. The Blazers have won 16 straight over the Wolves.
Projected Timberwolves Lineup:
PF: Kevin Love (UCLA, 4th Season) – 24.5 PPG, 13.7 RPG, 1.9 APG
SF: Wes Johnson (Syracuse, 2nd season) – 5.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, .8 APG
C: Nikola Pekovic (Montenegro, 2nd season) – 12.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG, .5 APG
SG: Luke Ridnour (Oregon, 9th season) – 11.2 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 3.7 APG
PG: Ricky Rubio (Spain, Rookie) – 10.9 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 8.2 APG
Player to Watch: Ricky Rubio (pictured at right) – After appearing to threaten that he would never play for Minnesota, it was uncertain that Rubio would be playing in the NBA anytime soon. After a so-so season in Spain last year, there were questions about whether he was really as good as advertised. Half a season in, the answer is an unqualified yes. Rubio was absolutely worth the wait as he has been everything that was promised and then some. Rubio looks and plays like a prototypical point guard. Always finding the open man for the shot, fast to the hoop and taking decent care of the ball on offense, he has been a big reason why Minnesota has really thrived this season. He is still a little raw on defense and he is not a great outside shooter but the potential is there and frankly, even with just what we’ve seen already, Rubio clearly looks to be a budding NBA star.
Did You Know?: Minnesota has won three games this year by making shots as time expired, the franchise high for any single season is four. In fact, the last time Minnesota beat Portland was on such a shot by Kevin Garnett on March 25, 2007.
Song of the Day: The Minnesota players signing along to ‘N Sync’s “Tearing Up My Heart” mostly because Martell Webster is hilarious, Kevin Love can’t sing and Michael Beasley is well, Michael Beasley:
Portland: Out – C Greg Oden (knee), Probable-PF Kurt Thomas (Concussion).
Minnesota: Doubtful – PG JJ Barea (Calf).
Oh what a difference competent coaching and a good point guard can make to a team. Rick Adelman has done a great job so far this season coaching the Wolves and Ricky Rubio has been better than almost anyone could have expected at point guard. With solid coaching and a player who can actually find open teammates for shots, the Wolves have managed to convert their high paced, low efficiency offense into a high paced average efficiency attack. They are a very strong rebounding team, especially of course the NBA’s leading rebounder Kevin Love. On defense, they are pretty much average in every way, which is a huge step up from the past few years, where defense seemed to almost be a dirty word for the Wolves. They usually fight hard but often lack the talent to beat top opponents. Still, if you let them hang around they are as dangerous as any team and are more than capable of beating almost any opponent on a given night.
The Bottom Line:
Portland wins if: They are focused. Yes this Minnesota team is better but they’re still not that good. If Portland is focused and ready to go, they should take this one.
Minnesota wins if: They make lots of 3s. The Wolves are best when they are able to make lots of outside shots. They will figure to have to do so if they want to win in Portland Saturday night.