Scouting Report: Wolves vs. Trail Blazers
Wolves Editorial Associate
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Wolves (15-14) vs Blazers (17-15) — 7:00 PM Target Center
Where to Watch: My29
Where to Listen: 830 WCCO-AM
View Timberwolves Game Notes
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Just when the Wolves needed it, their bench stepped up.
As star forward Kevin Love left the game with a hand injury in the second half, reserve guard JJ Barea emerged and scored 12 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter, propelling the Wolves to a 101-97 comeback win over the Nuggets on Thursday night. Alexey Shved also scored 17, and Luke Ridnour and Andrei Kirilenko each pitched in 14 to seal the win. Love had 12 points and 17 rebounds before heading to the locker room in the third quarter.
The Wolves now prepare for their third Northwest Division matchup in as many games as they host the Portland Trail Blazers tonight. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. on My29 and 830 WCCO-AM.
Tonight is another crucial game for Minnesota, hosting a Portland team playing back-to-backs taht just came off an 86-84 win over th Memphis Grizzlies that propelled the Blazers into seventh from in the West. Their leap pushed Denver into eighth and Minnesota into ninth. Just 1/2 game separates those three teams in the standings.
Portland, despite a sub-.500 record, is rising as a solid young club with loads of potential. LaMarcus Aldridge is putting up solid numbers at 20.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, but the real star of the Blazer show might be Damian Lillard. Recently named December’s Rookie of the Month, Lillard is averaging 18.4 points and 6.4 assists per game, impressive marks for a first-year player from tiny Weber State. At this point, he’s easily the front-runner for the NBA Rookie of the Year award.
Other young pieces include Nicolas Batum (16.4 PPG, 24 years old), Wes Matthews (14.6 PPG, 26 years old) and J.J. Hickson (12.3 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 24 years old). Even if Portland doesn’t reach the playoffs this year, they will be a popular pick by many analysts as future threats in the Western Conference as the young core continues to develop—especially Lillard.
Last Time Out: November 23, 2012
While Kevin Love had 24 points and 13 rebounds in just his second game back from a hand injury, Minnesota could not stop Portland’s hot shooting as the Blazers converted 53 percent of their shots in a 103-95 win over the Wolves.
"Wes Matthews and [Damian] Lillard ... they just couldn't miss. It's as easy as that," Love said.
Matthews dropped a season-high 30 points and Lillard scored a career-high 28. Portland made 11 3-pointers—including five from Matthews alone—a stark contrast from Minnesota’s 17 percent from beyond the arc.
Nikola Pekovic pitched in a double-double in addition to Love’s, logging 18 points and 10 rebounds. Luke Ridnour scored 14 points and Andrei Kirilenko contributed 10 points, six rebounds and five assists. The loss dropped Minnesota to 1-5 in its last six games.
Key Matchup: Damian Lillard and Minnesota’s point guards
Lillard’s early success is evident, and now he’s got the hardware to prove it. The December Rookie of the Month is tied for third among point guards with 16 games of 20+ points, and on Dec. 13 against the Spurs he became one of 12 players in the league to record at least 29 points, seven rebounds and six assists in a game.
Ridnour and Barea combined to shoot 12-of-24 from the field on Thursday night, including 4-of-7 from the perimeter. The two shot 9-of-11 from the floor in the fourth quarter alone. With Rubio still recovering from back spasms, the dual effort was instrumental in capturing a win in Denver. Now, returning home, the Wolves will continue to lean on their reserves in the backcourt while they try and contain one of the league’s brightest young stars in Lillard.
Love missed the remainder of Thursday's game at Denver after leaving the game with a sprained third metacarpal on his right hand. He is currently listed as questionable for tonight's game. The Wolves have not announced whether or not Rubio—also listed as questionable—will be available for tonight’s game after missing the road trip to Utah and Denver this week plus last Saturday's game against Phoenix. If he’s available, he will add a little extra depth for this Wolves team in the back court as they have primarily been rotating Barea, Ridnour and Shved in those two spots.
For the Blazers, shooting guard Elliot Williams is out for the season with an Achilles injury, and center Meyers Leonard is listed as out until at least Jan. 7 with a sprained right ankle. He has missed the past three games, and according to The Oregonian’s Jason Quick the most likely scenario is Leonard not making the Blazers’ two-game trip to Memphis and Minnesota and being re-evaluated before the Jan. 7 game against Orlando.
|Tonight's Probable Starters|
|PG||Luke Ridnour||Damian Lillard|
|SG||Alexey Shved||Wesley Matthews|
|SF||Andrei Kirilenko||Nicolas Batum|
|PF||Kevin Love||LaMarcus Aldridge|
|C||Nikola Pekovic||J.J. Hickson|