Preview: Wolves vs. Blazers
MINNEAPOLIS — A disappointing loss to the Phoenix Suns on Saturday has the Minnesota Timberwolves searching for consistency and the right formula to bring out their best.
With the Portland Trail Blazers coming to town Monday, Minnesota has a new worry: the health of Jimmy Butler.
Butler was injured in the Saturday loss, going to the locker room before returning to the court and trying to push the Timberwolves to victory while wincing through back pain. Minnesota listed Butler questionable for the home game against Portland.
“I could tell his back was bothering him,” Timberwolves forward Taj Gibson said. “He was in a lot of pain. Every time he was trying to move, every time he was trying to cut, he was in a lot of pain. He tried to thug it out, being the warrior that he is.”
Portland (16-13) is healthy and trying pass on Minnesota (17-13), which sits in fourth place in the Western Conference. The Trail Blazers have won three consecutive games after beating the Charlotte Hornets 93-91 on Saturday. They finish up a five-game road trip Monday with their first game against the Timberwolves this season.
“It’s the NBA; wins and losses is all that matters,” Portland guard CJ McCollum told the team’s website after the Saturday win. “No one remembers (which teams you beat), they only remember (the losses). So got to continue to build on that, finish the road trip off strong in Minnesota.
“They’re going to be ready to play, it’s going to be another good environment with a good crowd. … Just got to keep trying to push forward, take advantage of games and the play better at home once we get back.”
The Trail Blazers have won seven of their past nine meetings with the Timberwolves.
McCollum scored 25 points against Charlotte, and Damian Lillard had 18 points and 11 assists. However, Portland’s winning streak has been put together with strong defense.
The Blazers have held the Miami Heat, Orlando Magic and Charlotte to 95 points or less. Portland is fourth in the NBA in defensive rating, giving up 101.5 points per 100 possessions.
“Three road wins in a row is pretty good,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “The last few minutes were kind of exciting, but I was proud that we were able to hang on.
“Nothing’s easy. That’s part of the NBA. It would be nice to have a 20-point win, but those are hard to come by.”
Defense has held Minnesota back this season.
While the team is off to the third-best start in franchise history after 30 games, there is a sense the Timberwolves have not fulfilled their potential after adding Butler, Gibson and Jeff Teague to Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
Minnesota ranks fifth in the NBA in offensive rating but is 25th in defensive rating, allowing 107.6 points per 100 possessions.
The fourth quarter — when Phoenix outscored Minnesota 31-25 on Saturday — has been a particular issue. The Timberwolves are 28th in the league in fourth-quarter scoring and have the largest deficit in scoring margin in the fourth of any team in the NBA.
“You saw what happened. We gave the game up,” Towns said. “We gave it away about three times in the game, and we couldn’t pull it out at the end.”
And now the Timberwolves might be without Butler, who was held out of much of the Sunday practice due to back spasms.
“He didn’t do much today,” coach Tom Thibodeau told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “Just getting treatment. We’ll see how he is (Monday).”
Butler missed two games in October because of illness, and Minnesota lost both in disappointing fashion. A 130-107 home defeat to Indiana was followed by a 122-101 loss at Detroit.