Stotts, Blazers' newest dilemma: What to do with resurgent Mo Harkless?

Stotts, Blazers' newest dilemma: What to do with resurgent Mo Harkless?

SACRAMENTO – A developing subplot in the Trail Blazers season has been the reemergence of Maurice Harkless over the past week.

In what has largely been a disappointing season for the one-time starting small forward, Harkless has recently flourished while being reinserted into the rotation because of injuries.

Last Sunday, he hit all five three-point attempts in Boston en route to a 19-point, 8-rebound performance. And late in an overtime win against Charlotte on Thursday, he made a key block and a flushed a game-clinching dunk off an offensive rebound. He then scored 15 points Friday at Sacramento, and was a key element in the Blazers putting away the Kings in the fourth quarter.

Coach Terry Stotts, who through the first two months of the season went through a somewhat trying exercise in reaching a nine-man rotation, now has an intriguing decision ahead of him: What to do with Harkless?

“Let’s just talk about tonight,’’ Stotts said Friday when asked about his dilemma.

Harkless started the first 19 games of the season, but drifted into anonymity and eventually onto the bench amid poor shooting and energy-less play. To his credit, he remained ready after his demotion. He was the driving force in a December victory at the Lakers, scoring 22 points, and he was a boost with 19 points in a January home win over San Antonio.

This latest development was spurred first by a toe injury to Shabazz Napier, creating an opening in the Boston game, then a calf injury to Evan Turner, which has pushed Harkless into the starting lineup as Turner missed one game and has been on a minutes restriction the past two games.

Stotts started the season with Harkless in the starting lineup because he liked the defensive versatility he provides while paired with power forward Al-Farouq Aminu. The two long and lanky forwards can switch defensively on pick-and-rolls, and when energized, Harkless has athleticism unique to the Blazers.

Plus, with Harkless in the starting lineup, it allows Turner to assume an offensive role off the bench that is more suited to his strengths. With Turner on the second unit, he can be more of a ball-handler and initiator, and it puts less pressure on him to be a spacer alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

So, what does Stotts do?

On Friday at least, the coach conceded that he will probably extend his rotation from nine to 10, at least for the time being. Most coaches -- particularly late in the season -- like to limit their rotations to nine players in order to give them adequate playing time to establish a rhythm. If Harkless forges a regular spot back in the rotation, it will likely have to come at the expense of Napier, the team's third guard.

 “Moving forward I’m sure (Harkless) will be playing,’’ Stotts said. “Evan with the minutes restriction, you know, kind of makes it a little easier on me. Now, I assume Evan’s minutes will be going up, so they will have to come from somewhere. ‘’

This development almost mirrors how Harkless broke onto the scene in Portland two seasons ago. Lost and out of the rotation in February, he flourished as a spot starter in place of the injured Noah Vonleh and became a key element to the team’s late season push.

Now, Lillard is seeing some of the same things from Harkless.

“We get those sprint backs, those block, the deflections, the finishing in the paint, the offensive rebounds, knocking down 3s … when we get that from Mo we are a completely different team,’’ Lillard said. “I literally get excited when I see him doing those things. That’s why I will be the first guy to tell him: ‘We need you like this all the time. Nobody else on our roster can do what you do, and what you bring to the table.’’’

Harkless on Friday said nothing has changed for him, except the opportunity.

“I think it’s just being back in the rotation,’’ Harkless said. “It’s hard to not know if you are going to play, how much you are going to play, then get thrown out there for six minutes. It’s tough to play like that and be consistent.’’

For the immediate future, at least, it sounds like Stotts will give him another shot. What he does with it might determine the course of the Blazers rotation, and season.

“I will be ready to play, whatever role it is,’’ Harkless said.

Who will Blazers turn to to fill in for Seth Curry?

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NBCS NW

Who will Blazers turn to to fill in for Seth Curry?

It's time for another Blazers Outsiders Blog and this time around Blazers Outsider Chris Burkhardt answers the question - Who will fill in for the injured Seth Curry? 

Seth Curry hurt his knee in the Blazers loss to the Lakers on Wednesday, and it was announced today that he will miss time due to a right patellar bone bruise. How the question is, who will fill the void with Curry gone? Curry has averaged 17.1 minutes per game this season, so it may be tougher for coach Terry Stotts to rely on guys like Damian Lillard and Cj McCollum to shoulder the extra load. So where will he turn? This is where it gets interesting. 

In previous years the answer would be easy. Go with the backup guard, Wade Baldwin. However, Stotts has changed his play style and rotation this season meaning Baldwin might not be the easy answer. This season the Blazers are relying more than ever on Evan Turner to be the point guard of the second unit. Baldwin is not a shooter, nor does he play well off the ball. This seems to make him an easy pass. What it does do is open the door for the Blazers rookies to see some action. 

Both Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr. are guards that can shoot the ball well and move well off the ball. Neither Trent nor Simons has seen significant minutes this season, playing a combined total of just 10 minutes. However, this could be the time their number gets called. So who should it be?

If Stotts wants to run with a player most similar to Curry - a player that moves well off the ball, can shoot off the catch, but is also comfortable as the primary ball handler when needed - then he should go with Simons. Simons is a natural point guard, can shoot the ball well, and could alleviate Turner from ball control duties if called upon.

If Stotts wants to run with a player that is more of a true shooting guard type - someone that moves well off the ball, shoots well of the catch, and doesn't demand to control the ball - then he should go with Trent. Trent not only fills the role on offense but at 6'6", 209lbs he is a large body on defense as well. Stotts could run Turner and Nik Stauskas at the one and two, and slide Trent in at small forward with no issues. 

If it's me, I go with Trent, simply because the second unit doesn't require a secondary ball handler and at this point Trent probably fits better in the second unit than Simons. In fact, it wouldn't be a surprise if Turner, Lillard, and McCollum were all in foul trouble that you could see Baldwin and Trent on the floor before Simons. 

Not matter who Stotts turns to, we know the next man up will be ready. 

Scoop Podcast with the Queen of Rip City, Brooke Olzendam

Scoop Podcast with the Queen of Rip City, Brooke Olzendam

In her third season as the Trail Blazers Sideline Reporter, Brooke Olzendam is enjoying her time in Rip City.

On this week’s Scoop Podcast I get to know more about Brooke and her broadcasting journey.

On the road

With the Trail Blazers broadcasting crew being such a close-knit group, it’s easy for Brooke to talk about how great it is traveling with them as well as Kevin Calabro and Lamar Hurd. There are several great road trip stories including late night casino stops!


Blazer fans are the best fans

Since Brooke has traveled all around the country and been to all of the NBA arenas, there’s one thing she has come to realize about Trail Blazer fans—They know their team and they always want to hear more about what’s going on with their team.  

 

Having a great support system

The Olzendam family has always been really supportive of Brooke’s broadcasting and athletic careers. It’s great hearing all the stories of Brooke’s childhood and her love for sports.

Spoiler Alert: Brooke played soccer for five years starting when she was five years old and her team NEVER won a game. You can tell by talking to her this was devastating.

Probably the toughest question I throw at Brooke is--- If you could go back and change one thing about your sideline reporting career what would it be?

She gave a very thoughtful answer about her decision in becoming the Indiana Pacers sideline reporter back in 2011.

 

Hard Hitting Questions

 I ask the question that’s been on everyone’s mind:

What’s the deal with Pierre the Pelican always trying to scare the crap out of you?

Yes, Brooke is always on the lookout when she’s in New Orleans, but she told me that as long as Blaze the Trail Cat loves her that’s all that matters.

And, is Brooke a dog person or a cat person?? Wait until you hear her answer!

 

Talking shop

For Brooke, seeing Zach Collins’ development has been fun to watch. She feels that at just 20 years old his maturity is off the charts. After talking with Zach’s father, Mike Collins, last season, Brooke realized just how determined Zach is to become one of the greatest big men in Trail Blazer history.  

Hear from the ‘Queen of Rip City’ in the link below in this week’s Scoop Podcast.

 

 

Can you really trust the early season returns from the Blazers?

Can you really trust the early season returns from the Blazers?

My friend Kurt Helin over at Pro Basketball Talk had me on his podcast last week to discuss the surprising start by the Portland Trail Blazers, along with several other Western Conference NBA topics. About 15 minutes into our discussion, Kurt surprised me with a question I hadn't really considered much up until that point. 

Are Blazers fans buying into this team being for real?

I hemmed and hawed the way you do when you are trying to think of an answer in a live radio situation, inserting an anecdote about an observation I had made about Portland fans a couple years ago while I tried internally to decide what my gauge was on this fanbase. Smoothly (I think) I decided to respond with what I felt was most true about this 10-4 start, and has made this season unique in the eyes of Blazers diehards.

“They’re not waiting for the other shoe to drop,” I said.

That mindset — that something, anything is about to go wrong — has been prevalent in years past. In recent seasons, the Blazers have continued to exceed expectations with a roster that is playing above it's on-paper potential and during those times I’ve witnessed fans say they’re expecting a turn for the worse.

It happened in 2015-16 when Blazers fans knew that the team wasn't as good as it performed, leaping into the playoff race and beating an injury-decimated Los Angeles Clippers squad.

It happened the following season after a 20-game outburst from Jusuf Nurkic to end the year perhaps projected too rosy a future with the young center.

Heck, it even happened last year when the Blazers tore through the months of February and March, a trampoline effect that nabbed them the 3-seed in a crowded West. 

At each turn over the past few years, it’s felt as though fans were waiting for things to return to “normal”, for their big break to be over, and for the top-heavy team to fall from the stratosphere back to earth. 

This season? I’m not so sure. 

Part of that has to do with how Blazers fans take in games. This is a fanbase that pays attention to the squad, the tendencies, and eats up content around the team. And if you have been focused on this Portland squad early this year, you know that most of us analysts credit player buy-in and team-oriented bench play for this recent rise.

Now let me tell you something I'm not sure many analysts have made explicit: There's no reason to think either of those two things are going to change any time soon.

The strategy set forth by Stotts is solid. While Evan Turner was originally brought in to take pressure off of CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard in the playoffs, his natural role this season is as primary bench ballhandler. His unit shares the ball efficiently, and despite being the highest-paid player in the secondary rotation, Turner seems openly happy with his new role.

McCollum has adjusted to his new position as well. To his credit, both externally and from an observational standpoint, he seems happy to have done it. A $106 million man himself, McCollum seems truthful in accepting his role this season, joined at the hip with Lillard on the first unit.

This is all to say that the biggest roadblocks in the NBA are usually the personalities of the players themselves. Neil Olshey has built a roster around perhaps the best character guy in the NBA in Lillard, and the locker room has a tone that follows its star player. Buy-in from McCollum and Turner has filtered on down through the roster in the offensive strategies and defensive tactics put forth by Stotts.

The caveat with any season is of injury, but divested from any what-ifs in that department, this Portland team seems poised to continue their solid play. Film will be gathered, and defenses will adjust. Then the Blazers will adjust to the adjustment. They’ll have strong showings, like against the Celtics on Sunday or the Bucks last week. They’ll look overmatched the way they did on Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s the flow of NBA basketball.

But for now, it seems like Portland fans are ready to trust this team when just six weeks ago that might not have been advisable. Go ahead, it’s ok. 

I do, too.

What They’re Saying: Can the Blazers sustain strong start? 

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NBC Sports Northwest

What They’re Saying: Can the Blazers sustain strong start? 

The Portland Trail Blazers are off to a 10-4 start to the season, and despite dropping Wednesday's game to the Lakers, Portland is still holding tight to second in the West. 

Let’s take a look around the NBA and see what members of the national media are saying about the Blazers early season surprise. 
 

On the Blazers 10-4 start: 

Dan Devin of The Ringer: 

“Despite an offseason that made it look like the Blazers were standing still, they look deeper, stronger, and more versatile than last year’s model.” 

Jason Quick of The Athletic:

“There are theories that the regular season doesn’t matter, and the Blazers’ sudden playoff fall after a 49-win season could stand as evidence. So what to make of this undeniably impressive start for the Blazers? They once again look like an upper-division Western Conference playoff team, but will that matter once the playoffs roll around and a coach can game plan against Lillard and McCollum?”
 

On the emergence of Zach Collins: 

Dan Devine of The Ringer: 

"Second-year center Zach Collins has given the Blazers sensational minutes off the bench behind Nurkic, opening eyes as the sort of futuristic 7-footer every team’s looking for."

Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer: 

“While Nurkic is a stronger rebounder and interior scorer, Collins can defend the perimeter, protect the rim, and shoot 3s—all more valuable skills for today’s pace-and-space style. It’s only a matter of time until Collins, despite his youth, becomes the primary enforcer Portland needs.”
 

On Lillard continuing to grow: 

Haley O’Shaughnessy of The Ringer: 

“Lillard is one of those players who somehow, even in his seventh season, seems to improve certain aspects of his game each year, and Portland’s role players are finally ridding the team of its bad reputation for overhyping decent pieces. Their time could finally be in sight.”

Zach Lowe of ESPN: 

“The whole league watched Lillard quake when the Pelicans blitzed him in their first-round humiliation of Portland last season. Lillard clearly went to work.”
 

On Melo being a good fit in Portland: 

Bill Simmons of The Ringer: 

“I actually think Melo is a good one year trade risk for a fringe contender like Portland because his game SHOULD age well. What happened to him last season doesn’t totally make sense. Might have just been wrong team/wrong fit in OKC. Not impossible.”

Mike Chiari of Bleacher Report:

“Anthony can stretch the floor and knock down threes, which could be a strong complement to the guard combo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.”

Rip City Rewind: Everything you might have missed as the Blazers fell to the Lakers 

Rip City Rewind: Everything you might have missed as the Blazers fell to the Lakers 

The Portland Trail Blazers began their six-game road trip on Wednesday night against LeBron and the Los Angeles Lakers. 

While the Blazers started out strong in the first half, LeBron shut the door on the Blazers in the final quarters to snap Portland’s four-game winning streak. 

Here’s a look at what you might have missed from the Blazers 126-117 loss to the Lakers. 

There was no stopping LeBron James on Wednesday night. King James exploded against the Blazers, dropping 44 points on 13 of 19 attempts, and quietly adding nine assists and 10 rebounds. Jamie Hudson recapped LeBron’s historic performance as the Blazers commended the Lakers All-Star forward: Real Recognize Real: Trail Blazers give credit to LeBron

LeBron wasn’t the only problem for Portland last night. Lonzo Ball, Javale McGee and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope stepped up for the Lakers in a big way, knocking down three-pointers and blocking shots to seal the deal. Dwight Jaynes noted the Lakers hitting their stride: Surprise, surprise: Lakers supporting cast causes fit for Trail Blazers’ defense

The Blazers didn’t walk away from Los Angeles completely unscathed, shooting guard Seth Curry injured his right knee during the first half and had an MRI performed on the knee. Jamie Hudson has the latest update on Curry’s condition: Seth Curry has MRI on right knee, status unknown

Our Outsiders Alix, Danny, and Joe broke down Portland’s lackluster start to the road trip: Outsiders Podcast: LeBron James does LeBron things 

Blazers reporters Dwight Jaynes and Jamie Hudson, and producer Peter Socotch shared some quick thoughts from the scene immediately after the game: Rapid Reaction: 3 quick takeaways from the Blazers loss to the Lakers

UPDATE: MRI confirms Seth Curry has a right patellar bone bruise

UPDATE: MRI confirms Seth Curry has a right patellar bone bruise

Thursday 4:00pm UPDATE: Curry will be OUT for Friday's game against the Timberwolves. An MRI confirms Curry has a right patellar bone bruise, that's according to Trail Blazers PR.

Thursday 1:30 p.m. UPDATE: According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Curry is day-to-day after MRI from knee injury came back negative. 

Here is the original story from Wednesday night's game: 

LOS ANGELES - Trail Blazers shooting guard Seth Curry injured his right knee in the first half against the Lakers and did not return to the game. The extent of the injury is not yet known.

At this time the Trail Blazers are calling it a "right knee injury." 

Curry was unavailable to the media postgame because he was ushered off by team doctors to go have an MRI performed on the knee.

Teammates Evan Turner and CJ McCollum both discussed how difficult it is to see a teammate go back to the locker room during a game with an injury.

“I just seen him leap off and go to the locker room… You never want to see anything like that. I hope he’s alright. I hope the MRI shows that he’s able to get back out there and play as soon as possible,” McCollum said.  

“Obviously, it’s tough. You know, for one, you don’t want him being injured… We have a deep team and guys are going to step up, you know. You’ve got Jake Layman who has been playing pretty well, that means he can get more minutes in that sense. It’s the NBA and you really have to be prepared for it and guys have to step up,” Turner said.

Turner knows that if Curry does in fact have to miss any time that someone on this Blazers roster will fill the void.

“We move the ball around well, so I think anybody is really going to step in and figure out, so swing, swing, you know we kind of more of a democracy base type of a system. So, I think as long as that energy keeps up anybody’s going to make plays and score and fit in well,” Turner said.  

Be sure to follow NBCSNW on Twitter for all the latest updates on Curry and his injury. 

Real Recognize Real: Trail Blazers give credit to LeBron

Real Recognize Real: Trail Blazers give credit to LeBron

LOS ANGELES - It was a Wednesday night in Los Angeles where the Hollywood stars gathered to watch LeBron James and the Lakers host the Portland Trail Blazers at the Staples Center.

It was a nationally televised game.

It was a night that history could be made.

Those were all the ingredients LeBron needed to score the most points by a Laker since Kobe Bryant had scored 60 in his final game and for James to move up on the NBA’s All-Time scoring list.

And, the Blazers gave credit where credit was due after dropping Wednesday night’s game to the Lakers, 126-117.   

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts felt his team played a good enough game offensively, but they weren’t able to get over the hump after the Lakers outscored Portland, 33-22 in the second quarter. Coach Stotts was also quick to talk about King James’ overall game.  

“LeBron- it was a dominant performance. Nineteen shots for 44 points, you don’t see that very often, almost a triple-double,” Stotts said.

James tied Chamberlain on an and-1 runner with 3:55 remaining in the fourth quarter and passed him on the next free throw. He now has 31,425 points for his career.

LeBron led the Lakers with 44 points after making 13 of his 19 attempts from the floor. He was just one assist shy from his 75th triple-double of his career, finishing with nine assists and 10 rebounds.

Before the game tipped-off, James walked over to the far sideline to chat with Super Model Cindy Crawford and the Terminator himself Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s a scene that you will only see in Los Angeles.

The Trail Blazers watched several scenes in which LeBron scored, but they also witnessed him finding his teammates.  And we can’t forget that Wednesday’s contest was the third meeting between these two teams and we are less than a month into the season, which means it was third matchup on LeBron for Al-Farouq Aminu. 

“When you’re trying to lock in on LeBron, he’s a great passer, it makes it difficult,” Aminu said.

Portland now goes to 10-4 on the season. In the loss, Damian Lillard scored 31 points and dished out 11 assists, while CJ McCollum finished with 23 points.

The Lakers All-Star small forward was not only dominating in the paint, but he also made 5-of-6 from three-point range and when King James his hitting threes like that it’s pretty much game over.

“It’s hard. Chief did a great job forcing him into some tough spots and then he started getting to the free throw line. Refs started calling Flagrants and stuff like that and that allowed him to shoot uncontested free throws,” McCollum said.

“When he’s making his threes and then putting his head down it’s hard,” Stotts said.      

And as the kids say these days, ‘real recognize real,' and that’s exactly what Jusuf Nurkic did postgame.

“LeBron carried them through the second quarter, the third quarter. When he’s making shots, outside shots, and threes it’s tough to handle,” Nurkic said.

Another celebrity in attendance was Adam Sandler and his 10-year-old daughter, Sunny. They both gave LeBon a big ovation when history was made with LeBron passing Chamberlin on the all-time scoring list.

For one of the younger Laker players, Lonzo Ball, King James’ performance was one that he had seen many times when he was Sunny Sandler’s age.

“I grew up watching him do that, so it was cool to be on the floor with him, just being out there. I didn’t know he had the numbers he had tonight, but obviously, he had a great game and the stats showed it in the end,” Ball said postgame.

For many young players across the league this quote from Lonzo Ball rings true, they grew up watching LeBron dominate.

And now even after 15 years in the league he continues to show the youngsters and now the celebrities how King James can still easily take over a game.

Surprise, surprise: Lakers supporting cast causes fits for Trail Blazers' defense

Surprise, surprise: Lakers supporting cast causes fits for Trail Blazers' defense

LOS ANGELES – LeBron James did LeBron James things. You expect that and you can live with that many games.

But when Lonzo Ball, JaVale McGee and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope do things they don’t normally do, you’ve got a problem.

And the Trail Blazers had several problems Wednesday night in Staples Center when LeBron and his Lakers hung a 126-117 loss on Portland.

James hit five of his six three-point attempts and scored 44 points on 19 shots, along with gathering 10 rebounds and nine assists. He also passed Wilt Chamberlain on the all-time NBA scoring list.

“Anybody – when they’re hitting (three-point) shots like that, they are tough to guard,” said Portland’s Al-Farouq Aminu, who had the responsibility of chasing James around most of the game. “It’s the same with Dame. It’s a different complexity when somebody’s so good at getting to the rim and then they hit shots that well. It makes it tough.

“A lot of guys from their team stepped up, though. They made some big shots. Those guys played well, too.

“Trying to lock in on LeBron, he’s such a good passer, it makes it difficult. And with the veteran pieces they have, like (Rajon) Rondo, they understand the game and they get the most out of their supporting cast.”

The Trail Blazers were done in by their defense. Offensively, they were not at their best but 117 points and 42.4 percent shooting from three-point range should be good enough to win most games.

But the Lakers got 20 points, two steals and two blocked shots from McGee, who made life miserable in the paint for Portland’s penetrators.

And Caldwell-Pope knocked down three of his four three-point attempts en route to 13 points.

Heck, even the notoriously poor-shooting Ball got into the act, making three of five from three-point range, where the Lakers shot 46.9 percent.

The Trail Blazers took a 13-point lead in the first quarter but James began to heat up from the outside and Los Angeles had a four-point lead by halftime.

Portland Coach Terry Stotts wasn’t pleased with his team’s defense.

“We just couldn’t quite get over the hump in the second half,” he said. “Lebron had a dominant performance. When he’s making his threes and putting his head down (driving to the hoop) it’s tough to guard.

“Offensively, we did a good job most of the game. We passed the ball well, we made our threes early. Offensively it was a good night for us.

“We couldn’t get over the hump defensively.”

Portland gave up 50 points in the paint, a high number.

“A lot of those paint points are probably transition. We gave up too much transition.”

This was just Game 1 of a six-game road trip for the Trail Blazers and the mission now is not to let the hangover from this one cost another game or two.

Game 2 is Friday night in Minneapolis against the Timberwolves.

Rapid Reaction: 3 quick takeaways from the Blazers loss to the Lakers

Rapid Reaction: 3 quick takeaways from the Blazers loss to the Lakers

The Blazers road trip got off to a bumpy start in Los Angeles as they fell to the Lakers, 126 - 117. LeBron James had a big game, scoring 44 points and passing Wilt Chamberlain for fifth all-time on the NBA scoring list. 

Here are some quick thoughts from our reporters on the scene...

Final Box Score: Lakers 126 -  Blazers 117

Dwight Jaynes, Trail Blazers' Insider:  You have to make shots against the Lakers. Blazers missed a lot of open ones from close range. And can someone find a way to slow down the scoring machine that is JaVale McGee?

Jamie Hudson, Trail Blazers' Reporter: When your opponent is shooting 48.4% from deep, it's tough to beat them, but then you factor in that LeBron James finished one assist shy of a triple-double that makes it difficult for any team to get the W.

Peter Socotch, Producer on the road:  Shell-shocked. The Blazers 13-point first half lead evaporated as LeBron began to heat up, the Lakers closed on a 24-10 run and a lead at halftime. A sleepy Staples Center was woken up when LeBron went off for 16 points in a 38-point Lakers 3rd quarter. The Blazers kept it close, but were never able to capture the lead in the second half. And then to start the 4th, they got punched right in the mouth. A 10-2 start to the 4th and that’s all she wrote… A game of runs… Hopefully, a loss to start the road trip won’t carry over to their next game in Minnesota.

***Be sure to check back here throughout tonight for locker room videos with Coach Stotts and the players, plus locker room reports from Jamie Hudson and Dwight Jaynes***

NEXT UP: The Blazers travel to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves. Tip-off is set for 5:00pm on Friday, November 16th,  with coverage beginning at 4:00pm on NBC Sports Northwest.