January 24, 2018, 7:19 pm
After a narrow victory on Monday night versus the LA Clippers, the Wolves continue their road trip in Portland. They’ll look to top the Trail Blazers on the front end of their back-to-back set, with the Warriors looming tomorrow night.
This is an important game for a number of reasons. The Wolves have a chance to seal another tie-breaker over a Western Conference playoff team. So far they’ve clinched tie-breakers over the Thunder, Pelicans and Clippers. If they win in Portland they can seal yet another.
Hopefully the Wolves don’t fall back in the race but if they do, or one of these teams has a strong surge, these tie-breakers are useful in securing home court advantage.
Second with the Warriors looming on the back-end of the back-to-back, securing a win here is key and makes the task much less daunting tomorrow. The Wolves aren’t looking ahead by any means and discounting the Blazers, but winning this one takes a bit of the edge off tomorrow.
Since the teams last met on January 14 the Blazers have won three of their last four games while the Wolves have gone 2-2. The Blazers are operating at peak capacity now, fully healthy and active among their rotation players, but even so have yet to get on a real hot streak this season.
They remain a team that is seemingly stuck in the mud, talented enough to compete for a playoff spot but lacking the tools and potential to jump into the elite company. Their best players are talented but have striking flaws among them.
Lillard, recently named an All-Star, and McCollum are a dynamic combination offensively but give back plenty on the defensive end. Nurkic is a physical player in the post and has the chops to be a very good lead big-man but is seemingly his own worst enemy.
Last time out the Wolves were able to slow down Lillard and McCollum’s volume, holding them each under their season average in shot attempts, and the rest of the Blazers couldn’t muster enough offense to keep pace. Depending on the status of Jimmy Butler the Blazers will look to get their star back-court significantly more involved.
Speaking of Butler, Thibs announced in the pre game that Butler is leaning towards doubtful to play in this contest. Jamal Crawford is questionable. The knee injury is still not considered serious the Wolves are just taking things slow as precaution. He expected to return by the weekend, if not tomorrow night.
If Butler can’t play, Wiggins and Teague will be ready to go. Of course last weekend they faced another dynamic back-court duo and came out on top, though giving up 60 points in the process. Once again it will be important to keep the rest of the Blazers down in the path to a victory. If their third and fourth options are hitting shots it could be a long night.
– Karl-Anthony Towns vs. Jusuf Nurkic
– Andrew Wiggins vs. C.J. McCollum
As mentioned in the last preview Nurkic has actually been pretty terrible in the post in terms of production. The problem seems to lie in his willingness to settle for perimeter jumpers or allowing himself to get bullied out of deep post position.
In the first matchup between Towns and Nurkic, Towns allowed him to take all of his shots around the rim and Nurkic dominated. The last game Towns was much more physical, and Gibson saw some time on his as well. As a result the Wolves were able to completely neutralize him.
Look for the Wolves to once again mix up the coverage and keep Nurkic out of the paint.
In the back-court the Wiggins vs. McCollum battle has the potential to be quite intriguing. Wiggins has the length and athleticism to disturb McCollum on both ends of the floor. It certainly won’t be easy but if Wiggins can swarm C.J. and force him into tough shots, it could be a long night for him because on the other end of the floor C.J. doesn’t stand a chance.
The Wolves could post up Wiggins every time on McCollum and he’d score the majority of the time. If the Blazers bring a double-team, this lineup for the Wolves possesses three consistent deep shooters that can make them pay.
It’s possible the Blazers run Evan Turner on Wiggins, but in that case Bjelica will have a player half his size attempting to guard him and he’ll have a severe mismatch. It all depends on what Wiggins the Wolves get tonight. If they get aggressive Wigs, who they’ve seen more often of late, they’ll be in great shape.
If they get passive Wiggins, McCollum will have a chance to bust out in a major way and can let Wigs settle for mid range shots all game.
Jeff Teague – PG
Andrew Wiggins – SG
Nemanja Bjelica – SF
Taj Gibson – PF
Karl-Anthony Towns – C
Damian Lillard – PG
C.J. McCollum – SG
Evan Turner – SF
Al-Farouq Aminu – PF
Jusuf Nurkic – C
Jimmy Butler (knee) – DOUBTFUL
Jamal Crawford (toe) – ACTIVE
C.J. Wilcox (knee) – OUT
Where to Watch:
10:00 ET/9:00 CT on Fox Sports North