Timberwolves vs. Trail Blazers: Another chance for a streak

Apr 9, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) is hugged by teammates after making a game winning basket against the Portland Trail Blazers during the fourth quarter at the Moda Center. The Timberwolves won 106-105. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Timberwolves have yet another chance to begin building a winning streak, and Sunday evening against a division rival in the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Wolves have had yet another up-and-down week, but after closing the month of December with a 6-9 record, Minnesota will be looking for a much better January.

Of course, December was much better than October and November for the Timberwolves. It ended in strong fashion, with a 5-4 record over the past nine games, including a wire-to-wire, 17-point win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night.

The Portland Trail Blazers have had a rough start to the 2016-17 season as well, and given expectations for coach Terry Stotts’ squad, it’s perhaps been even more disappointing. After winning 51 games and claiming the Northwest Division crown in 2014-15 and landing the fifth seed last season, the Blazers are just 14-21 to this point.

And not only that, star point guard Damian Lillard has a sprained ankle and may not play on Sunday night.

Herein lies the preview for Sunday evening’s tilt…

Apr 9, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine (8) shoots over Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum (3) during the fourth quarter at the Moda Center. The Timberwolves won 106-105. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Timberwolves Preview

Record: 11-22 (6-11 home, 5-11 road)

Starting Lineup

PG – Ricky Rubio (7.3 PPG, 7.3 APG, 4.2 RPG, 1.8 SPG)

SG – Zach LaVine (21.1 PPG, 3.2 APG, 3.0 RPG)

SF – Andrew Wiggins (22.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 2.4 APG)

PF – Gorgui Dieng (10.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.3 BPG)

C – Karl Anthony-Towns (21.8 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.4 BPG)

Key Reserves

Shabazz Muhammad and Nemanja Bjelica both played extremely well on Friday night, with Muhammad tallying 22 points and Bjelica reaching double-digits with 10 of his own.

Cole Aldrich continues to see his playing time wane, and Kris Dunn has come back to earth a bit from his mid-December hot streak.

The Wolves need Muhammad and Bjelica to do exactly what they did against the Bucks if they’re going to attempt a run at the .500-mark this season. In fact, Friday night was nearly a picture-perfect example of what Tom Thibodeau is looking for.

Apr 9, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) drives past Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) during the fourth quarter at the Moda Center. The Timberwolves won 106-105. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers Preview

Record: 14-21 (9-7 home, 5-14 road)

Starting Lineup

PG – Damian Lillard (27 PPG, 6.2 APG, 4.5 RPG)

SG – C.J. McCollum (22.3 PPG, 3.7 APG, 3.5 RPG)

SF – Al-Farouq Aminu (6.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.9 APG)

PF – Maurice Harkless (12.1 PPG, 5 RPG, 0.9 APG)

C – Mason Plumlee  (10.9 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 4.2 APG)

Key Reserves

Top reserve Allen Crabbe has started the last three games since Damian Lillard’s ankle injury. The start point guard is questionable to play on Sunday against the Wolves, so McCollum-Crabbe may be the Blazers’ starting back court once again.

Evan Turner sees 25.3 minutes per game off the bench, and former Memphis Grizzlies’ big man Ed Davis plays a significant role as well.

Per usual for the Blazers, it’s a deep team with an effective bench. Lillard and McCollum are the only real scoring threats, with Harkless and Plumlee the only other players averaging over double-digits in points.

Jan 31, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) dribbles around Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) during the first quarter of the game at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Three Things to Watch

1. The point guard match-up (will Lillard play?). The Timberwolves may not have to deal with Damian Lillard, but C.J. McCollum sliding over to the point guard spot is no slouch. Ricky Rubio has been playing better of late, but this is a true challenge.

2. Another Andrew Wiggins resurgence? Wiggins seems to be going in stretches of playing extremely well and following that up with failing to fill out any box score stats except for points — and those points haven’t exactly been efficient.

But on Friday night, Wiggins tallied 31 points, six rebounds, and five assists. The Wolves will need the former Rookie of the Year to come on strong if they’re going to begin to dig themselves out of the Western Conference cellar.

3. The long-ball. The Wolves have been on a tear from downtown of late, with Shabazz Muhammad and Zach LaVine leading the way against the Bucks. The Blazers are tied for the fifth-most three-point makes in the NBA, so the Wolves will have their work cut out for them to match Portland step-for-step from beyond the arc.

Dec 30, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau reacts to a call in the second quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Game Prediction

The Timberwolves have been on a win-one, lose-win streak of late. After the win Friday, it would make some sense to lose to a supposedly superior team in the Trail Blazers on Sunday night.

On the other hand, the Blazers could very well be without Lillard, and Portland is a staggering 5-14 on the road despite a winning record at home.

This should be a fun game, with or without Lillard. Let’s call it a 108-106 overtime win for the Timberwolves.

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