Preview: Wolves vs. Blazers
A week ago, Jimmy Butler played his last game for the Minnesota Timberwolves and it was the finale of a winless five-game road trip in Sacramento.
A day later, reports began surfacing of Butler’s trade to the Philadelphia 76ers and by Monday the deal was official.
The response for the Timberwolves has been consecutive wins and Friday, they get a chance to claim a third straight win when they host the Portland Trail Blazers, who won the first meeting by 30 points on Nov. 4.
The Wolves are on their second winning streak of the season and trying to dig out of the 4-9 hole that Butler’s trade saga overshadowed. On Monday, Minnesota officially obtained Robert Covington and Dario Saric from Philadelphia and while they didn’t play, the Wolves halted their skid with a 120-113 win over the Brooklyn Nets.
Karl Anthony-Towns enjoyed one of his more productive showings of his slow start by totaling 25 points and 21 rebounds Monday. With Covington and Saric active on Wednesday, Towns followed it up by getting 25 points and 16 rebounds in a 107-100 win over the New Orleans.
As for their new players, Covington started and scored 13 points in 41 minutes while Saric added nine in 20 minutes.
“I was very impressed with them,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “They just play hard. Even if they’re not quite sure on something, they hustle, and hustle goes a long way.”
However, Towns had plenty of help as all five starters reached double figures, including Andrew Wiggins, who finished with 23 points.
“We were just playing together,” Towns said after Minnesota totaled a season-best 29 assists and won despite shooting 41.1 percent. “We did a great job getting the ball around, getting everyone involved. It was just about having fun and playing with love and enthusiasm.”
Perhaps more of a positive sign is what unfolded in the fourth quarter Wednesday. Despite shooting 3 of 12 in the final five minutes, the Wolves finished with a 13-6 run thanks to an 11-3 rebounding edge.
“Whoever’s on the floor has to step it up,” Wiggins said. “When Jimmy was here, Jimmy was a good player — that’s proven. Now it’s up to us to close out games.”
Minnesota played without Derrick Rose, who played 39 minutes Monday but missed Wednesday with left knee soreness. The Wolves will re-evaluate Rose before deciding if he plays.
Portland’s first win over the Wolves marked the eighth straight time the home team won in the series between the teams. It also started a four-game winning streak but the streak ended Wednesday with a 126-117 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the opener of a six-game road trip.
Damian Lillard totaled 31 points and 11 assists Wednesday after tweaking his knee Sunday against Boston but Portland’s defense had little answers for LeBron James, who finished with a 44-point night. C.J. McCollum added 23 and is averaging 23.6 points in last six games.
“LeBron, it was a dominant performance,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “(Scoring) 44 points on 19 shots, that doesn’t happen too often. When he’s hitting his 3s and putting his head down, he’s tough to stop.”
Portland will be looking to rebound after allowing 120 points for the third time and falling to 0-3 when doing so. The Blazers will be looking to bounce back after allowing a season-high 52.3 percent from the floor, 50 percent shooting for the second time this season and 50 points in the paint.
Despite being unable to stop James and the Lakers, the Blazers are off to a 10-4 start. It is Portland’s best start since 2014-15
Portland enters the game tied with Denver for the fewest road games in the league at five and its second-longest trip is a winding one. After leaving Minnesota, the Blazers head to Washington, New York, Milwaukee before visiting Golden State next Friday.