Timberwolves-Trail Blazers Preview

With a little over six weeks remaining in the regular season,
the slumping Portland Trail Blazers know they need to pick up the
pace.

A visit from the last-place Minnesota Timberwolves could help
them do just that.

Portland tries to continue its recent domination of Minnesota as
these Northwest Division rivals conclude their season series
Saturday night.

While the 10th-place Trail Blazers (26-31) are hoping to climb
into the Western Conference playoff picture, a 1-8 funk has instead
set them back. Portland sits two games behind the ninth-place Los
Angeles Lakers and a handful in back of the eighth and final
postseason spot.

“I think we still have got a chance,” said Damian Lillard, who
leads all rookies with 18.4 points, 6.4 assists and 2.2 3-pointers
per game. “Until it says we can’t catch any team for eighth, then
that’s when we’ll be out. We can string wins together at any point.
As long as there’s a window open, we’ve got a chance.”

After snapping a season-worst seven-game losing streak with
Sunday’s 92-86 win over Boston, Portland’s struggles resumed
Wednesday in a 111-109 loss to Denver. Lillard scored 26 points,
LaMarcus Aldridge added 22 and J.J. Hickson posted 18 and 14
rebounds, but the Blazers were outscored 72-42 in the paint and
allowed 26 points off 19 turnovers.

“It’s tough to come up short at the end of a game that we really
needed to win,” Lillard said. “We know what time it is. … Guys
putting everything out there at this time of the season because we
know we’ve got a chance, and when you come up short on your home
floor when you play hard like that, this is the type of feeling you
have.”

Portland figures to be in higher spirits with Minnesota (20-35)
coming to town. The Blazers have taken 13 of 14 meetings at home
and 20 of 22 overall, including all three this season. Wesley
Matthews has gone 14 for 21 from 3-point range and averaged 26.0
points – 10.9 more than his season mark – in the three games while
Lillard’s averaged 23.0.

Minnesota is coming off its fourth consecutive loss and 20th in
24 games, 116-94 at the Lakers on Thursday. Continuing to play
without Kevin Love and just two days after losing Andrei Kirilenko
to a calf injury, the Timberwolves saw Nikola Pekovic go down with
an abdominal strain. Pekovic, averaging 15.9 points and 8.8
rebounds, is uncertain to suit up Saturday.

“It’s been horrendous. I’ve never seen anything like this,”
coach Rick Adelman said. “And it’s not just getting injuries, but
when the guys do start trickling back, they haven’t played
together, so we’ve got no rhythm as a team.

“We’re just trying to fit people in. It’s been really
frustrating, but I give our guys credit. They’re still trying to
fight through it. After a while, it gets really old, but the
schedule doesn’t stop. You’ve got to keep playing.”

J.J. Barea scored 20 points off the bench Thursday and Ricky
Rubio added 13, 13 assists and eight rebounds. Minnesota has
dropped 15 of 17 on the road while surrendering an average of 104.4
points.

“Man, it’s tough. I don’t think anybody in here has ever lost
like this before,” said Derrick Williams, averaging 16.5 points and
9.0 boards over the last 10 games. “I mean, we’ve had only nine or
10 players all season, and it takes a toll on you every single
night.”