Trail Blazers-Timberwolves Preview
The Portland Trail Blazers have suffered half of their road losses this season in a little under three weeks.
The Trail Blazers will look to salvage a split of their four-game trip when they close the swing against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night.
Portland dropped only five of its first 20 games away from home, one of which was a 120-109 defeat in Minneapolis on Dec. 18. Since then, the Blazers have lost five of their last six outside Portland, including four straight from Jan. 20-Feb. 3.
The Blazers (35-15) have allowed an average of 107.0 points in those six road contests after a 118-113 overtime loss at Indiana on Friday.
Damian Lillard had 38 points and 11 assists, but Portland couldn't come up with big stops when it needed them. The team allowed the Pacers to put up 32 points in the fourth quarter and 15 in the extra period.
"I thought it was a very well-played game by both teams. It's a game I think we were in position to win, obviously," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "We didn't come up with some rebounds when we needed them. But give Indiana credit. They hit some tough shots when they needed to."
Nicolas Batum's struggles on the road of late have also hurt. Over his last five away from home, Batum is shooting 32.4 percent and averaging only 7.2 points - a dip from his 45.3 percent and 12.8 points per game on the season.
Portland is 23-5 when the small forward scores 12 or more points, compared to 12-10 in games when he doesn't. Batum went 1 for 8 and scored only four points against Indiana, and he missed a 3-point attempt at the end of regulation that could have won it.
"We ran pick and roll but both defenders ran hard at me and I didn't want to put up a shot too early in case I missed, they could have time to get their own shot," Lillard said. "Then I saw (Batum) come open to me and I got it to him and he got up a shot. I have confidence in him anytime."
In two games this season against the Timberwolves (24-26), which includes the Blazers' 115-104 home win on Jan. 25, Batum has averaged 16.5 points.
Minnesota is coming off its fourth loss in five games, 98-91 in New Orleans on Friday. Kevin Love, who was back in the lineup after missing a game with a sore neck, had 26 points and 19 rebounds, but the team wasted a 10-point advantage entering the fourth.
The blown lead was the latest in a recent downward trend for Minnesota, which has been playing poorly in the second half. Since Feb. 1, the Wolves have allowed an average of 56.3 points in the third and fourth quarters while scoring 46.8. In their first 46 games, they scored 50.6 points and allowed 50.0 per second half.
"We have to learn how to play aggressive all the way through the game," said guard Ricky Rubio. "We have to learn how to play with a lead. (Against New Orleans) we were up by 10 in the third quarter, we should be able to finish strong."
Despite their loss there in December, the Trail Blazers have won 10 of their last 12 in Minnesota. Nikola Pekovic, who is currently out with a sore ankle, scored 30 points for the Wolves in that win, while Lillard had 36 points for Portland.