If the season ended Sunday, the Timberwolves and Blazers would be first-round opponents in the playoffs.
The Timberwolves, the current four-seed in the Western Conference, host the five-seeded Portland Trail Blazers Monday night, with hopes of creating some separation.
It’s the final game of the Timberwolves’ homestand, one that has created both positivity and disappointment.
The best of it came when the Wolves annihilated the Sacremento Kings last Thursday, and did so quickly. But that was quickly followed by a two-point loss to the Devin Booker-less Phoenix Suns on Saturday.
The Saturday loss also featured a back injury to Jimmy Butler that hindered his play in the game’s late moments.
As a result of the injury, Butler is currently listed as a game-time decision for Monday night’s game.
Jimmy Butler was a “full participant” in shootaround and “we’ll see how he feels tonight,” said Tom Thibodeau at #twolves shootaround.
The back injury was not back spasms. They back just “locked up,” said Thibs.
— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) December 18, 2017
Meanwhile, the Blazers are on a similar path. They’ve run into their own moments of trouble, yet still managed to stay within the top 6 of the Western Conference most of the season.
And as the Wolves finish an up-and-down homestand, the Blazers are finishing a road trip where they’re currently undefeated.
But their 16-13 start does include some dud losses, including ones to the Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings.
Like the Wolves, they don’t have any true signature wins, but have beaten other competitive division opponents like the Denver Nuggets and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In short, they’re a team with a similar record, a similar win-loss history, but play a completely different style of basketball.
The Wolves are a high-octane offense, and low-activity defense, that tends to see its troubles occur in the fourth quarter. The Blazers are fourth in defensive rating, but sit at 21st in offensive rating.
Like always, the Wolves will especially have to worry once the fourth quarter hits. They’re still dead last in net rating in the final 12 minutes, while the Blazers sit in the top 10.
The Blazers are, however, a team that struggles to get going early. They’re in the middle of the pack in first quarter net rating, and are in the bottom seven in the second quarter.
Aside from the fourth quarter, the Timberwolves are a top half of the league – and the top 7 in each of the middle two quarters – in net rating. The way they’ve won the majority of their games has been though getting a big lead early and holding it. That will likely be the play here.
But they’ll have some tough matchups to deal with, especially if Butler ends up inactive. Despite their low rank in offensive efficiency, they feature one of the two or three best backcourt combinations in the entire league in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
Both are in the top 20 in scoring – Lillard is seventh, McCollum is 19th – and attempt a combined 13.8 3-pointers per game. Considering the 9 3s they allowed to Dragan Bender and Troy Daniels on Saturday, the thought of now closing out Monday’s pair is an unnerving thought.
- After Monday’s game, the Timberwolves won’t be back at the Target Center until Wednesday, Dec. 27. In the meantime, they have road matchups with the Phoenix Suns (again) and a Christmas Day game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
- Rookie Justin Patton had his first rough night in an Iowa Wolves jersey Saturday. He shot 3-8 in 16 minutes with 6 points, 6 rebounds and 3 fouls. He did show off some unicorn skills in that game, however.
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