Preview: Wolves vs. Trail Blazers
MINNEAPOLIS — With a win Saturday, the Portland Trail Blazers officially knocked the Minnesota Timberwolves out of the playoffs.
The two teams face off just two days later.
Monday’s game in Minneapolis is a makeup of a game that was originally scheduled for March 6. The Trail Blazers and Timberwolves never took to the court that night, though, as condensation on the Target Center court led to unsafe conditions.
That moisture was the result of unseasonably warm temperatures in Minneapolis, coupled with an ice rink underneath the basketball court. The rink was being used for Disney on Ice and a college hockey tournament, which bookended the NBA game.
“The safety of the players has to come first,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said that night. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s the right thing to do.”
At the time of that postponed game, Minnesota was chasing Portland in the standings. The Timberwolves were hoping to become the eighth and final team to secure a playoff spot in the Western Conference despite a sub-.500 record.
Minnesota trailed the Blazers by just one game back on March 6. Now, entering Monday’s matchup, Portland is 38-38, in the eighth spot in the West and riding a six-game winning streak. Following a loss Saturday to Sacramento, the Timberwolves are 30-45 and out of the playoff picture.
The Blazers are two games ahead of the Denver Nuggets for the West’s final postseason spot, but there still is work to be done to secure it.
“To battle back and be in the eighth spot was an accomplishment to a degree (and) getting back to .500,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts told The Oregonian. “But again our work’s not done,”
If Portland hopes to make it to the postseason, it’ll have to do so without big man Jusuf Nurkic. The third-year center fractured his right leg and will miss the remainder of the regular season. Saturday’s win for the Trail Blazers was their first since Nurkic was sidelined. He averaged 15.2 points and 10.4 rebounds in 20 games since joining Portland from Denver via trade.
Even without Nurkic, the Blazers have a chance to get above .500 with a win over a Timberwolves team that struggled defensively against the Kings on Saturday.
“We feel like we’re the team right now that we should have been all along, the way we’re playing,” Portland guard Damian Lillard told Blazers.com. “But all that matters is getting a playoff spot. I guess it’s good to be .500 but nobody comes into the season saying, ‘Let’s play .500 basketball.'”
Minnesota and Portland will see each other twice in four days, as the Blazers will host the Timberwolves on Thursday. Even though Minnesota is not playing for a playoff spot, its young roster knows it has to show signs of improvement heading into the offseason.
That will start on the defensive end.
“We’re capable. We’ve done it multiple times,” Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins said of his team’s defense. “We’ve got to stay consistent with it.”