Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves (5-5) @ Portland Trail Blazers (5-6)

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Recent history has taught us no matter how cruel a hand fate has dealt you, it could be worse: you could be the Portland Trail Blazers.

Franchise power forward broke his hand? Superhero rookie point guard’s knee explode?

They’re coming back, though, right? Really? Before Christmas? Hmm.

Implied is now cliche: Could be worse: You could be Portland.

Blazers probable starting lineup:

PG Damian Lillard

SG Wesley Matthews

SF Nicolas Batum

PF LaMarcus Aldridge

C Meyers Leonard

Once upon a time, jump shooting big man Aldridge was supposed to be flanked by the mammoth defensive presence of Greg Oden and the clutch heroics of Brandon Roy. The fact they were acquired by fate and cunning — landing the #1 pick in the draft lottery and fleecing Minnesota in a draft-day trade — generated more extreme fandom in Portland and cemented their status league-wide as future perennial contenders.

Multiple knee surgeries later, both are retired or semi-retired, depending on your level of optimism. A future dynasty crumbled and fallen on the faulty foundation of a pair of inglorious knees.

Roadside warnings are thusly read:

The bitter fans see the OKC Thunder as what the Blazers should have become. The #2 pick in the Oden draft became Kevin Durant, and so on. That thinking leads some to become…

Fatalists believe with their Bill Walton/Sam Bowie history, the Blazers are a cursed franchise, shaking their fists at Dr. Jack Ramsay. Which leads us to the third group…

The theory goes, there were so many new NBA fans in Portland swept up by Blazermania in the Roy-Oden-era, and the ones who survived getting their knees capped, or stepped back from the ledge, think this year’s Blazers are bound for glory.

There are hardly words for these people.

Wolves probable starting lineup:

PG Luke Ridnour

SG Malcolm Lee

SF Andrei Kirilenko

PF Kevin Love

C Nikola Pekovic

The remaining realists today find the Blazers paper thin (lowest bench scoring in the league), but still building with Aldridge. Having aggressively pursued Indiana’s Roy Hibbert with a max offer that was matched, and effectively doubling-down on building around Aldridge when they reluctantly matched the Wolves similarly aggressive, though less lucrative, offer to Batum last summer.

The Blazermaniacs all point to rookie savior Lillard as the missing ingredient — fantastic so far this year averaging around 20 points, 5 assists and 40% from 3. Ridnour will make for roadkill this evening, J.J. Barea and Malcolm Lee will get their chances, but Lillard should feast.

The other Blazers rookie in the starting lineup, Leonard, started his first game Wednesday against Phoenix (for the injured J.J. Hickson) and was eaten alive by Marcin Gortat (22 points, 11-14 fgs). If Pek and the Wolves offense show more mobility than Wednesday, they should have similar results.

Aldridge is averaging as many (few) rebounds per game this season as fellow (ineffectual rebounding) big man, Brook Lopez (7.4), but is as tall as he is skilled. There are worse blocks on which to build (see: Oden, Roy).

I kid, I kid…

The history (as I am recalling at this moment) between the Wolves and Blazers would seem insignificant to most:

  • J.R. Rider traded to Portland, marking the beginning of the Jail Blazers-era
  • Blazers owner Paul Allen refuses general manager Kevin Pritchard the right to interview for vacant GM position with Wolves
  • Blazers assistant general manager, Tom Penn uses the Wolves as leverage in contract talks
  • Wolves name David Kahn, former Oregonian reporter, their GM
  • Martell Webster’s back injury and trade for Luke Babbit
  • Brandon Roy accepts free agent offer to come out of retirement with Wolves
  • Wolves RFA offer to Batum

The drama that surrounded Batum’s restricted free agent offer significantly dwarfed Hibbert’s — with new Blazer’s general manager Neil Olshey stirring the pot, calling out Minnesota’s mosquitoes and noting the climate as not-so desirous, while neglecting to acknowledge how Utah must have felt about the Blazers similar offerings to Wesley Matthews and Paul Millsap — all having the same net zero effect as the rest of those bullet points, save ancient history, in Rider.

Seems silly, until you realize the Blazermania extends to Kevin Love’s choice to attend UCLA instead of staying home. Shame. Vitriol spent on that.

The truth is, there is almost no comparison between what might have been for the Blazers and what has been for the Wolves. I mean, is it worse to have seen the top of the mountain and fallen or never made it out of base camp?

Here’s to a nice rivalry.

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