Minnesota at Portland
Time: 9:30 PM CT (TNT)
Spread: POR -5.5
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Minnesota Timberwolves are out of playoff contention at 31-46, and all the required growing pains of a young team have been prevalent in what has been a disappointing season in some respects for Tom Thibodeau’s “Timberpuppies.”
While Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine are growing into a formidable trio, LaVine’s injury and defensive issues caused Minnesota to fall a solid 6.5 games behind No. 8 Portland by this juncture of the season, earning it another trip to the Draft lottery. Minnesota travels to face Portland tonight as 5.5-point underdogs in the second half of TNT’s double header.
The Timberwolves have won three of its past five games, and some improvements have been seen in this late juncture of the season. While Minny is without LaVine for the remainder of the year, Ricky Rubio’s jumper has looked better, and the defense has been slightly improved-if still inconsistent. The Timberwolves are surrendering 106.4 points per game while scoring 105.5 per night, and it is a problem that likely could be remedied with better communication.
Minnesota lacks verbal leadership on the defensive end, and Kevin Garnett was an unspoken brilliant contribution in that regard that Minnesota has missed since his retirement.
Leadership in general has been an issue for such a young team, and while Rubio serves as an elder statesman of sorts, the Wolves could benefit from adding an experienced frontcourt defender to fit into the rotation with KAT and Gorgui Dieng. While Towns and Dieng have been good as a tandem, Thibodeau seems to be a body and defender short of being able to field an effective rotation that can contain teams. Minnesota has all the offensive talent in the world and good individual defenders, it is just a matter of putting things together and maturing.
And that did not happen this season, nor should it have. Perhaps with another offseason of work and tempered expectations, Minnesota can start to fufill its potential next season. The roster will certainly be tinkered with in the interim.
Portland had been hot until the very reason it was vanished right before its eyes. Since starting center Josef Nurkic has gone down with a leg injury, the Blazers have dropped two straight and were out-rebounded by 19 last outing against the Utah Jazz in a 106-87 loss. The loss of Nurkic comes at a horrible time, with Portland heating up and gearing up for its 2017 playoff run. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have been sensational, but Nurkic gave the team a legitimate post presence it had lacked, and he was playing superb basketball. Nurkic was said to be out at least two weeks, but could make a quicker return to the lineup and said his leg has not been that painful lately.
In the meantime, the Blazers need a lot more from Noah Vonleh, who has shown mere flashes thus far in his brief NBA career. The long-term picture with Nurkic likely could be very good, if he stays healthy, but Portland has had more than its fair share of brushes with career-ending injuries to its bigs. The Blazers will exercise supreme caution to prevent Nurkic from having the same fate as Bill Walton, Sam Bowie and Greg Oden.
It might break the franchise’s proverbial back to lose yet another promising young big man to frailties in his body. The Blazers rebuilt quickly after losing LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency two seasons ago, but with a fragile young big man the scenario just seems altogether predictable and dangerous, which has to worry Blazers fans to the core.