Game 54 Preview: Portland Trailblazers vs Minnesota Timberwolves

Portland Trailblazers (24-28) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (25-28)

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Last game: Minnesota: L, 100-79 vs Boston Celtics, Portland: L, 98-97 vs Los Angeles Clippers

Love did ok the last time these teams met, I guess.

Love did ok the last time these teams met, I guess.

The Wolves lost a disappointing (and playoff-hope damaging) game against the Boston Celtics on Friday in Kevin Garnett’s 2012 return to the Target Center. Garnett won the much-anticipated matchup between himself and Kevin Love, scoring 24 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and generally flustering Love on defense. Love scored 22 points, but he was 5-18 from the field.

Portland played without injured star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge on Friday night, who sat out with a hyper-extended elbow, suffered in Thursday’s victory over New Orleans. His replacement, JJ Hickson performed admirably with 29 points and 13 rebounds, but Chris Paul hit a driving layup as the clock wound down that proved to be the difference, as the Blazers lost 98-97.

The Key Questions

#1. How will all of the injuries affect the game?

I don’t have any evidence to back this claim up aside from what I’m noticing, but seriously: there have been more injuries around the league than usual this season, right? Am I wrong? Take a look at this game: Rubio is out, obviously. Barea, Beasley and Pekovic are all questionable. For the Blazers, LaMarcus Aldridge is out. Again, I don’t have any numbers, but it certainly seems like players are dropping left and right.

#2. Playoff/tanking implications?

The Blazers are four games behind the Nuggets for 8th in the Western Conference. Their remaining schedule includes two games against both Dallas and Utah and a game against San Antonio. Plus the Blazers began tanking back at the trade deadline. Their slim playoff hopes (if that’s even what they are hoping for) look slimmer every day.

Minnesota, however, has no reason to tank and I still haven’t given up hope. Call me crazy, but see #3.

#3. How difficult is Minnesota’s upcoming schedule?

The next seven games for the Wolves are winnable match-ups, either mediocre teams (Sacramento, Golden State, New Orleans) or decent teams that the Wolves have beaten this year (Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles Clippers). I’m not saying that they will win every game. I’m saying that they COULD win every game. So as big as that 3.5 game deficit looks right now…don’t completely count out the Wolves yet.

The Key Matchups

Obviously, so much depends on whether Aldridge is playing or not, but if Portland is TRULY wants to tank, benching Aldridge for the rest of the season would be the way to go (hint hint). Hickson, though he played well offensively against the Clippers, is a minus defender, so having him guard Kevin Love could be all kinds of entertaining.

Nicolas Batum has scored double digits in six of his last seven games. Wes Johnson hasn’t reached double figures since March 9.

Elsewhere, so much depends on who is available, it’s very difficult to project who might have a good game.

The Outlook

Last time these teams met on March 3, Minnesota won 122-110, breaking a long losing streak to Portland in the Rose Garden. That game put Minnesota in 8th place in the Western Conference. Of course, the Wolves had Rubio at that point. They also had Kevin Love who scored 42 points in the win.

Minnesota doesn’t have Rubio, but they do have Love. A tough matchup, to be sure, but a winnable one.

Game starts at 8 on Fox Sports North Plus