Wolves at Blazers tonight, so it’s a late 9:00 tip-off. I recommend eating the nuked-up turkey now so you have ample time to nap off the tryptophan before Love-Aldridge XXVI (all Roman Numerals approximate). There’s something of a rivalry between these teams, but it has more to do with the front offices than any epic playoff series (unfortunately). The teams flipped draft picks in 2006, with Brandon Roy sealing the one-sided fate of this intradivision matchup for years to come. As Wolves fans now know all too well, Roy’s knees eventually broke down, but not before he inflicted years of pain on the Wolves. Without looking this up, I think they beat us every single time we matched up after the Garnett trade, before Ricky Rubio resurrected the Timberwolves franchise last year. But the personnel tension extends beyond Brandon Roy.
David Kahn traded a first rounder to Portland for Martell Webster only to discover that he needed back surgery. While Kahn takes the brunt of the blame–do your due diligence for crying out loud–he certainly didn’t appreciate what he felt was Portland withholding medical information. Last summer the fun continued when Kahn courted Nicolas Batum like Minny had never courted a free agent before. Batum publicly expressed hope that Portland would not match, expressing a clear preference for the Wolves and making everything uneasy with the team that held his rights. Somewhere in there, I think Neil Olshey took a shot at the state of Minnesota as a whole. Oh here it is. (“I guess he’s into mosquito bites and frost bite.”) What a dumbass. Not only because there are no mosquitoes in Minneapolis and there is a skyway system all over downtown, but just for saying that at all during a pending contract situation. I’m glad we aren’t the only team in the division whose GM puts his foot in his mouth. Alas, Portland matched and Batum remains a Blazer. The Brandon Roy tie that binds these orgs went full circle when he came out of retirement to join the team that drafted him. Tonight was supposed to be his homecoming to Portland. As you know, the return was derailed by another knee surgery. It’s fair to question whether Roy will play another game. (I think he will.) But even if he does, his early-season performs suggests a shell of his old self, with an ideal fit being an 8-12 minute/game bench player to throw an Andre Miller-like post game at second unit defense. While we’re talking Wolves-Blazers and before moving on, I should also point out that Coach Rick Adelman began his head coaching career in Portland where he twice led the Blazers to the NBA Finals. Lots of connections.
On to tonight’s game…
* The Wolves are 5-5. The Blazers are 5-6. The game is played at Portland. The line right now is Portland by 1.5. It’s anyone’s guess who will this game, or who *should* win this game.
* Portland rides its “Big Four” of Damian Lillard, Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and LaMarcus Aldridge pretty hard. Each plays over 37 minutes per game. (By comparison, 0 Timberwolves play that much, though Kevin Love probably will as time goes on.) This is probably a wise strategy as the Blazers are not deep with talent.
* From the Blazers offense, look for a lot of action to begin with high ball screens set by either Aldridge or J.J. Hickson. Point guard Lillard, a seasoned rookie who played all four years of college (Weber State), has an advanced understanding of pick-and-roll and will shoot the three if defenders slide under the ball screen. He’s currently hitting 39.4 percent from 3 while shooting 6.0 of them per game. When he isn’t shooting it himself, look for the all-too-familiar sight of LMA taking–and often times making–a steady supply of midrange jumpers. He’s in the Dirk/Bargnani group of “unblockable” jumpers. He’s 6’11” and has a high release point. Off the pick and roll, he’ll get himself situated around the elbows. He’ll also shoot those baseline turnarounds, much like prime KG used to in Minnesota.
* That Batum guy… turns out he’s pretty good. Maybe as good as that Kahntract he signed last summer. (Definitely that good if he continues his current pace.) It’s interesting that the Wolves focused on Batum and, alternatively, Andrei Kirilenko this past summer as free agent targets. That’s because each is playing very well, and in seemingly similar ways. Both are excellent cutters. They do their best work when they’re moving off the ball and filling in the gaps. For a great descriptive piece on Batum, check out Danny Nowell’s over at Portland Roundball Society.
Should be a good one tonight.