Scouting Report: Wolves at Trail Blazers

Wolves (18-19) at Trail Blazers (18-18) - 9 PM Rose Garden
Where to Watch: Fox Sports North
Where to Listen: 830 AM WCCO

*Get your questions on the radio airwaves during halftime! Just tweet questions to @WolvesRadio and listen to the halftime show hosted by John Focke on WCCO 830 AM.

The Timberwolves struggled through much of Wednesday and Thursday’s games against the Lakers and Suns, never getting into an offensive rhythm in L.A. and simply going cold in the third quarter against Phoenix. Both resulted in defeat.

Minnesota has a chance to get back on track tonight against Portland in a pivotal matchup of two Northwest Division rivals. The Wolves and Trail Blazers tip off at 9 p.m. from the Rose Garden for their first meeting of the season, and in the process they’ll begin what could be a battle for the final Western Conference playoff spot throughout the second half of the season.

The Wolves (18-19) are currently 1 ½ games out of the eight spot, held by divisional rival Denver at 19-17. Portland currently sits 1 game behind the Nuggets at 18-18. The Blazers hold a 13-6 record at the Rose Garden.

Playoff implications

Tonight’s matchup is crucial as the Wolves look to benefit from the Blazers’ streaky play. Portland has lost three of its last four games—most recently a 107-93 loss to Miami on Thursday—and hasn’t put together consecutive victories since beating Sacramento and Memphis on Jan. 23-24. Minnesota, on the other hand, won its fifth game in six contests on Tuesday against the Clippers before losing to the Lakers and Suns. In that six-game span, Minnesota scored 100-plus points on five occasions. In the past two losses, the Wolves are averaging 90.0 points per game.

Portland has the second largest point differential of any team in the Western Conference at +4.4 PPG and are allowing 93.8 points a night, so getting off to a good start and playing consistent basketball for 48 minutes will be important for the Wolves tonight.

Key matchup: Love vs. Aldridge

There is no shortage of tough matchups for Kevin Love this week, as he continues to match up against some of the Western Conference’s top power forwards. He squared off with Blake Griffin on Tuesday, and tonight he’ll see another All-Star in Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge. Like Love, Aldridge has been a force for the Blazers this winter. He’s averaging 22.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, and his 36.2 minutes a night are just behind Love’s league-leading workload of 39.5. Aldridge is taking nearly 18 shots per game and shooting 50.4 percent from the field this season.

Love returned Thursday against Phoenix after missing the Lakers games with flu-like symptoms. He also missed much of the second half against the Clippers on Tuesday after suffering a rib contusion. Still, Love was very much himself against the Suns as he scored 23 points and added 10 rebounds. Love still leads the league in double-doubles with 31, is second in the league with 13.7 RPG and is fourth in scoring at 24.5 PPG.

Back court production

Wolves rookie guard Ricky Rubio scored in double figures against the Suns for the first time in five games, finishing with 13 points on the night. In his previous three games he had shot 4-for-23 from the floor. But aside from a two-assist performance against Phoenix, Rubio continues to rack up his assists. He had nine in each of his first two games coming out of the All-Star Break. The Wolves were missing guard JJ Barea against Phoenix after he suffered a strained right calf against the Lakers on Wednesday. He’s listed as doubtful for tonight’s game.

The Blazers have enjoyed consistent production from point guard Jamal Crawford, who has scored 15 or more points in 12 of his last 15 games since the beginning of February. He’s started the last three games over Raymond Felton, who is leading the team with 6.1 assists per game. Crawford has been teaming with Nicolas Batum in the backcourt, forming a strong scoring duo for the Blazers. Batum has shifted between the starting small forward and shooting guard positions, most recently playing shooting guard in the past five games. At 6-foot-8, Batum’s size could factor into tonight’s game against the Wolves’ smaller guards, and he finished February shooting 42.9 percent from 3-point range.

Przybilla back in the NBA

Former University of Minnesota standout Joel Przybilla made his season debut on Thursday against the Heat. The 7-foot-1 center last played in the NBA in March 2011—he signed with Portland on Monday. Przybilla spent seven of his 11-year career with the Blazers before being traded to Charlotte last year in a deal that brought Gerald Wallace to Portland. The Blazers hope Przybilla can be a backup center that plays about 10-15 minutes per night during the playoff push.

Meanwhile, Wallace has provided his share of offense this season despite being fairly quiet lately. He’s averaging 13.4 points a night and has eclipsed 20 points on nine times this year, but he’s scored in single digits in four of the past six games. He’s bringing down 6.3 rebounds a night and adding 2.7 assists.

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