Portland Trailblazers @ Minnesota Timberwolves -1
Two of the best young power forwards in the NBA square off in a game that, especially in this shortened season, has tremendous playoff implications. Minnesota and Portland are separated by just a half-game going into tonight and are part of a big pile jockeying for the 6th through 9th positions out West. One of those teams will not be in the playoffs. For Minnesota, a team that hasn’t tasted the playoffs since Kevin Garnett was traded to Boston, a win tonight will do a lot to continue energizing a revitalized fan base.
Minnesota has won seven of their last ten ballgames and has pulled over .500 for the first time this late in the season since 2007. Much of the run has been spearheaded not just by Kevin Love, but by the emergence of Derrick Williams, Michael Beasley and Ricky Rubio as steady contributors. However, those three were expected to contribute. Perhaps the biggest factor in the Timberwolves playoff push has been fantastic play of super-sub JJ Barrea and the surprising play of Nikola Petkovic, their unheralded second leading scorer.
Portland can’t boast the same level of talent and depth, partially because of the long-reaching damaging effects of losing both Brandon Roy and Greg Oden far too soon in their promising careers. Batum and Gerald Wallace have played well, if not spectacularly, and they have gotten a nice offensive boost from Jamal Crawford, but the play of point guard Raymond Felton has been a source of real concern. The North Carolina guard is averaging just 9.7 ppg, on dismal 37.2% shooting from the floor. Add in his nearly three turnovers a game, and you have a real problem at the point guard position.
This bodes well for a Minnesota team that doesn’t excel defensively, but can generally shoot and score well enough to hang around most ballgames. If Portland, fueled by Felton, contributes a healthy share of empty possessions it could be a nice and relatively easy win for Minnesota.
The one point line feels a little too slim to me, as I would rank Minnesota as the slightly better ballclub at this point in the season. Figuring home court is worth three to four points in a line, this means Vegas thinks Portland is three points better than Minnesota on a neutral floor (which obviously doesn’t happen in the NBA). I would respectfully disagree, and would even put my money where my mouth is.
Give me the Timberpups laying the point at the Target Center tonight.
Free Pick: Minnesota Timberwolves -1