Saturday's game against Minnesota will be the second of three meetings between the Trail Blazers (21-15) and Timberwolves (8-29) this season.
This will also be the start of a back-to-back for the two teams with their final series game set for March 14.
Portland leads the season series, 1-0.
In their last meeting, the Trail Blazers defeated the Timberwolves, 135-117, at Moda Center on Jan. 7.
In the win, Damian Lillard notched 39 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals, while Anthony Edwards led the Timberwolves with 26 points to go along with four rebounds and two steals
Over the last 10 games, Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is shooting 48.6% and averaging 21.7 points. Before Anthony Towns contracted COVID and missed 13 games between January and February, he had missed seven games due to a dislocated left wrist.
Saturday, Portland will once again be without Harry Giles (left calf strain), CJ McCollum (left midfoot fracture), Jusuf Nurkic (right wrist fracture) and Zach Collins (left ankle stress fracture).
Following Friday’s practice, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said that CJ McCollum did some one-on-one work today, but Jusuf Nurkic "was limited" because he is dealing with a "calf that's bothering him."
For the Timberwolves, Jarrett Culver (left great toe; strain) is doubtful, while D'Angelo Russell (left knee; surgery), Jordan McLaughlin (health and safety protocols) and Malik Beasley (league suspension) are out.
Ahead of Saturday’s game, our Trail Blazers Insider Dwight Jaynes discussed how the Blazers need to make teams pay for doubling Damian Lillard and they also have to work out the miscues on the other end:
Watching the Trail Blazers Thursday night – and the whole season, for that matter – leads me to an inescapable conclusion:
This team appears to need more practice. A lot more. And it isn’t going to get it with the schedule it faces in the second half of the season.
The major problems are easy to spot.
For years now, many Portland opponents have had success blitzing Damian Lillard in the pick and roll or just plain double-teaming him in the halfcourt. And now the tactic has reached epidemic proportions. It’s happening virtually every game, at least by the good teams.
And after all this time, I don’t understand why the Trail Blazers don’t handle it better.
They seem perplexed by it very often and when defenses take the ball out of Lillard’s hands, Portland frequently doesn’t get quality shots. Or even any shots, as they fritter away opportunities to get chances in the basket area.
There is too little action off the ball and too much one-on-one play by players who aren’t able to create much for themselves or others.
Seriously, this team isn’t going anywhere if it can’t figure out how to get the double-teams off Lillard and make their opponents pay for double-teaming. And they are going to wear out their best player against all that defensive pressure.
Understand, this is not the Rubic’s Cube of basketball.
Terry Stotts continues to put his best player in pick-and-rolls because “it’s what we do” and because he believes it’s a benefit when teams commit two players to the ball, leaving his team the opportunity to play four against three.
And it is an advantage – for most teams.
The obvious problem with that is Stotts’ team doesn’t do really well playing four on three. That situation is bound to improve when Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum return to the lineup, because they have been the usual safety valves as playmakers.
But it won’t be the panacea. More ball and player movement is needed, no matter who is playing. And the defense, quite obviously, needs to figure out how to do a better job denying penetration while contesting more of those wide-open threes it is allowing.
Portland’s bench is also having serious problems with pick-and-rolls -- at both ends of the court.
On offense, when teams switch the pick and roll, the Trail Blazers reserves don’t have enough movement off the ball to create shots for each other and too many possessions are ending with Rodney Hood, Carmelo Anthony or Anfernee Simons simply trying to beat their defender one-on-one. All would benefit much more if they could be finishers, rather than creators.
And one of the best shooters off the bench, Nassir Little, isn’t yet a forceful isolation player and isn’t getting enough shots because his team doesn’t run enough quality halfcourt offense to find him.
The bench crew suffers on defense in the pick and roll because it is constantly switching screens, allowing the offense to single out mismatches or weak defenders to go against.
The Suns were able to pick their matchups Thursday and when they got what they wanted, feasted on it.
When you create opponent mismatches by switching, which this team has long done, you allow offenses to dictate to your defense – which is a hazardous way to try to defend.
Their best offensive player vs. your worst defender is just not going to turn out well very often.
I’m sure you may be wondering why I’m bringing up this team’s offense when it ranks sixth in the NBA. Well, because No. 6 isn’t going to be good enough if the defense continues to sit where it is now and has just about all season – No. 28 among 30 teams. And we're grading on a curve here. This is a team with championship aspirations in a no-excuse season. For great things to happen, great improvement must happen.
And that improvement will have to happen on the fly, without a lot of practice time.
Read more here.
The Blazers are -4.5 point favorites against the Timberwolves, odds provided by our partner PointsBet.
Here’s what you need to know about Saturday’s matchup --
- Damian Lillard has scored at least 20 points in four of his last five games against the Timberwolves. He is averaging 24.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists over 30 career games against Minnesota.
- Enes Kanter added 10 points (5-5 FG), seven rebounds, one assist, two steals and two blocks against the Timberwolves on Jan. 7. Kanter has finished in double-figures in eight of his last nine outings against Minnesota.
- Anthony Edwards' 26 points against Portland on March 13 were at the time a career-high, and marked his first career instance eclipsing the 20-point mark.
- D'Angelo Russell recorded 26 points (9-16 FG, 3-7 3-PT, 5-6 FT), three rebounds and three assists for Minnesota on Jan. 7. Russell is averaging 21.3 points over 12 career games against the Trail Blazers, his fourth-highest average against any team.
- Jarred Vanderbilt recorded 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting (2-3 FT), to go with 10 rebounds and two steals. It was the first double-double of his career.
POINT SPREAD: -- Trail Blazers: -4.5 (-110) – Timberwolves: +4.5 (-110)
HOW TO WATCH:
When: Saturday, March 13
Where: Target Center | Minneapolis, Minnesota
Start time: 5:00 p.m. PT
TV channel: NBCSNW, the official network of the Portland Trail Blazers
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