January 15, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Portland Trailblazers forward Nicolas Batum (88) during the second half against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 115-111 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Portland Trail Blazers (24-23) @ Minnesota Timberwolves (18-26)

The Blazers kick off a 6-game road trip at the Target Center in Minneapolis, where they beat the Wolves for the 2nd time this season (102-97) less than a month ago. In that game the Blazers hung 16 3s (on 67% shooting) while the Wolves suffered 10-34 (29%) shooting by their only available guards at the time: Luke Ridnour, JJ Barea, and Alexey Shved. Oh, how times have changed.

Saturday in Portland, the Jazz lost to the Blazers by being outrebounded 37-49 and outgunned. The Blazers shot 50% from the field, making 2 more 3s and 6 more free throws. Despite turning it over only 4 times to Portland’s 16, Utah lost 99-105.

Blazers probable starting lineup:

PG Damian Lillard

SG Nicolas Batum

SF Victor Claver

PF LaMarcus Aldridge

C JJ Hickson

The Blazers are dealing with one of their few significant injuries all year: Wesley Matthews sprained his ankle Friday against the Jazz in Utah and missed the next game against the Jazz when they played in Portland Saturday night. (File under: scheduling quirks — the Blazers played the Jazz back-to-back, home-and-home, one game after playing the Clippers back-to-back, home-and-home.) Matthews has hit his season high in 3 pointers made (5) twice this season and both times have been against the Wolves. So it seems he would have some motivation to give it a go.

Damian Lillard is in the midst of running away in the Rookie of the Year race. He was just awarded his third consecutive Western Conference Rookie of the Month award, after averaging 17.7 points and 6.8 assists in 39.6 minutes for the month of January. On the year, Lillard is 2nd (per game) on the Blazers in minutes (38.6, behind Batum), shots attempted (15.4, behind Aldridge), and 3 pointers attempted (6.3, again, behind Batum); while leading them in assists (6.5, Batum is 2nd with 5).

With a 7-15 road record and only 4 wins in their last 10 games, Portland would appear to be fading if the Wolves weren’t 2-8 over that same injury-ravaged span.

Wolves probable starting lineup:

PG Ricky Rubio

SG Luke Ridnour

SF Andrei Kirilenko

PF Derrick Williams

C Nikola Pekovic

It is beyond intriguing to see what Ricky Rubio’s defensive presence will mean for Lillard and the Blazers’ performance. Rubio has averaged 10.3 points on 47% shooting, 6.5 assists and 2.5 steals over his last 4 games. Rubio’s ability to contain Lillard’s penetration and thus limit the Blazers’ kickout 3 point attempts should — theoretically — make this meeting different from the season’s first 2 where Ridnour was torched repeatedly and shooters (Batum and Matthews) were left wide open all night long.

Although it’s tempting to let Blazer-mania seep into Wolves’ paranoia, concerning the future of Pek. It is worthwhile to note: while both Wesley Matthews and Paul Millsap were Utah RFAs and both received offers from Portland; it is the Wolves and their offer to Batum last summer that was dirty or mean or whatever and they (the Wolves) will reap what they’ve sown when it comes time for Pek to be paid in 6 months. The logic doesn’t quite flow the way you want it to, but reality in the NBA is reality: Pek will get paid. Consider tonight another audition.

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Tags: Minnesota Timberwolves Portland Trail Blazers Pregame Preview

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