Wolves Hunting for Playoffs in 2013
With the NFL pre-season in full swing, NBA training camps will be kicking-off in a matter of weeks. After ending the season by losing seven consecutive games, Portland found itself in the lottery along with Northwest Division rival Minnesota.
Both teams look to compete for playoff spots in the Western Conference heading into the upcoming season. Here is a breakdown of how the teams match-up head-to-head in 2012-13.
Backcourt: Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews v. Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour
A point guard matchup with Lillard and Rubio is intriguing for those that like uptempo basketball.
Rubio is recovering from a torn ACL suffered at the end of last season and the level of aggressiveness that he will possess is a mystery to Minnesota fans. Although second-year guard Malcolm Lee is slated as the starting shooting guard, Rubio and Ridnour played crucial minutes together in the fourth quarter before Rubio’s injury.
Portland shooting guard Wesley Matthews is better than Ridnour or Lee, but he was inconsistent with former coach Nate McMillan at the helm. If he can gain confidence under the eye of Stotts, the Blazers are distinctly better at this position.
Frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum v. Kevin Love and Chase Budinger
While Portland’s franchise power forward is in the process of trying to bounce back from yet another surgery (hip), Minnesota’s Kevin Love spent the summer studying championship pedigrees abroad in Europe on the way to earning a gold medal in the London Olymoics.
Love enters the season as one of the best power forwards in the game, and is head and shoulders above Aldridge. In addition to attempting flee Portlandia for Minnesota, Batum spent July doing some studying of his own, specifically anatomy, as he became involved in groin-gate in his country’s defeat in the hands of Spain.
The Timberwolves upgraded at small forward by acquiring Houston’s Budinger who is currently better than both Derrick Williams and Martell Webster. Despite the upgrade, it was seen as a consolation prize to Batum.
The difference in the skill levels between Batum and Budinger does not cancel that of Aldridge and Love.
Center: Meyers Leonard v. Andrei Kirilenko
While second-year center Nikola Pekovic is pegged as the starter at the Target Center, do not be surprised if Minnesota coach Rick Adelman puts former Utah Jazz star Andrei Kirilenko at center.
Although he is a bit undersized at 6’9,” a rejuvenated Kirilenko will play bigger than his height and will provide Minnesota a scoring option at the position that they did not have last year.
Even though scouts are high on his defensive presence, Meyers Leonard will have his hands full with trying to stop the former all-star.
Bench: J.J. Hickson, Luke Babbitt, Ronnie Price, and Jared Jeffries v. Brandon Roy, J.J. Barea, Derrick Williams, Greg Stiemsma
One could make the argument that if Hickson plays the way that he did after Portland acquired him off waivers from Sacramento, he is the best bench option of the eight options listed. Other than that, Portland is hipster-thin at this spot if one of two new acquisitions Jeffries and Price succumbs to injury.
This is a stark contrast to Minnesota as they possess the deepest bench of all NBA teams not to make the playoffs. Roy and Barea are fantastic options late in basketball games if Adelman is searching for baskets.
Meanwhile, 2011 lottery pick Derrick Williams and former Boston Celtics forward Stiemsma bring raw energy and a willingness to play defense.
Coach and General Manager: Terry Stotts and Neil Olshey v. Rick Adelman and David Kahn
Given the four names in this list, Adelman has the most accomplished resume and is one of the best coaches in the NBA.
In just one season, the former Portland coach has infused confidence in a franchise that has not been this high since the days of Kevin Garnett.
Neil Olshey defended his roster like Davy Crockett and the Alamo, as Kahn tried to pluck Batum by signing him to an offer sheet that surprised viewed as too expensive given Batum’s production.
These two cancel each other out.