On the road again
The Portland Trail Blazers just wrapped up a home-and-home series with the Utah Jazz, which means it’s time to pack their bags and head on out for a seven-game road trip.
Matchup: Portland Trail Blazers (24-23) @ Minnesota Timberwolves (18-26)
Venue: Target Center
Time: 5:00 PM PT
Date: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013
Game one of the trip puts the team in Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves Monday night.
Game Notes/How They Match Up
Coming into the season, the Minnesota Timberwolves were expected to be one of the teams fighting for a spot in the postseason. While their chances at the playoffs aren’t out the window half way through the year, injuries have bogged them down to the point where they’re now five-and-a-half games out of the eighth spot out West.
The Blazers, on the other hand, have had a relatively healthy season—although they’re banged up heading into this game—and as a result, they’re just one game behind Houston for the final spot.
What Portland has going against them in this one is their road troubles. They’re on a four-game losing streak away from the Rose Garden, and they must break that trend as the second half of the season kicks off.
What to Watch: Portland
Sticking with the theme of road woes, one thing to look out for on Monday is the production of J.J. Hickson.
At home, J.J. Hickson has been the man. He’s averaged 18.4 points in his last five games at the Rose Garden, and when he gives the Blazers an extra boost on offense, they’re able to take advantage.
On the road, Hickson’s scoring has dropped to just 10.8. You don’t expect him to be a No. 1 option night in and night out, but when he crashes the offensive boards, he creates extra opportunities for himself and his teammates.
Portland needs help scoring on the road, and Hickson can give them that help if he just plays the same game he plays at home.
What to Watch: Minnesota
The three-point line could make or break the game for Minnesota on both offense and defense.
In the two times that Minnesota has seen the Blazers this season—both Portland victories—they’ve allowed the Blazers to dominate from deep range. The Wolves were the worst team in the league in January when it came to defending the three-point line, and it’s going to be an important part of their strategy that they limit the Blazers’ weapons from getting open looks outside.
On the other end of the floor, the Timberwolves are going to look to shoot better than they did the last two times they played Portland. Their combined three-point percentage between the two contests was 23.5 percent.
Both games were close enough to where better three-point shooting from Minnesota would have impacted the outcome. This team is going to look to be more efficient, and better three-point shooting will be a major part of that game plan.
In the past two matchups between these teams, Minnesota center Nikola Pekovic has averaged 19.5 points and 12.5 rebounds. The big man in the middle has dominated a smaller Portland frontcourt, and if J.J. Hickson doesn’t hold his own, he’ll do it again Monday night.
Hickson has to play defense without fouling. Pekovic is an impressive 13-of-15 from the foul line this season against Portland, so you have to body up and stay physical without giving him free opportunities.
On the offensive end, Hickson has to use his speed and energy against the 290-pound Pekovic. He’s only averaging eight points per game against the Timberwolves this season, and he has to at least be a threat to score if he wants to contribute on that side of the floor.
Minnesota: OUT—Kevin Love, Brandon Roy
Since the 2007-08 season, the Trail Blazers have defeated the Timberwolves 19 out of their 21 matchups. Their struggles on the road make this one tough to call, but if history can repeat itself, the Blazers will hold the advantage.