Timberwolves Season Series Preview: Portland Trail Blazers

Dec 5, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) shoots over Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) and center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) during the first quarter at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 5, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) shoots over Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) and center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) during the first quarter at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

Welcome to Part 23 in our series previewing each of the Timberwolves’ opponents and the respective upcoming season series.

Tale of the tape: Although the largest final margin between the Timberwolves and Trail Blazers last season was merely six points, Portland’s won the series, 3-1.

Even the only victory by Minnesota came in Portland’s penultimate match of the regular season, when they had already secured a playoff spot. However, close battles till the very last seconds show that Wolves have the potential to give a tougher challenge for their Northwest Division rivals.

What’s New?

After a successful season with seemingly limited resources, the Blazers decided to continue in those same footsteps.

Their core stayed basically the same and some decent additions should make the team even more competitive. In an extremely tough Northwest Division and Western Conference, the Blazers will need to play even better than last year to at least repeat their success from the 2015-16 season.

Key Losses

Gerald Henderson

Last year’s Blazers weren’t just about Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. One of the not-so-obvious keys for the team’s success was Henderson. He averaged nearly nine points per contest and provided the team with essential quality minutes off the bench.

Alongside Allen Crabbe they led an extremely underrated but efficient second unit. And although Evan Turner is a perfect fit in the shooting guard/small forward spot, the Trail Blazers could definitely have used Henderson’s contributions off the bench had he stayed in Portland.

Key Additions

Evan Turner

The former Celtic should fit in nicely with this Blazers squad. (Actually, Portland and Boston seemed to have a lot in common last year…an elite point guard and lots of average or just above-average players around him. The fifth-seed in their respective conferences. A great coach. Team basketball.)

Celtics are no longer are seen as the underdog, whereas the Blazers, despite their success, seem to remain underrated — just like Turner has been almost his entire career.

And although he is a slightly different type of player than Lillard and McCollum, it may not be a bad thing. Portland has enough great shooters alongside Turner to compensate for his poor outside shooting.

Evan himself can offer strong hustle, toughness and consistency — things that would strengthen nearly any team. In the Blazers’ case, that’s especially important on the defensive end, since that’s where Portland tended to struggle most last season. And while Turner may not be an elite defender, his presence should significantly improve Portland’s defensive stats as a whole.

More from Timberwolves News

Festus Ezeli

The Nigerian is an even more defense-oriented acquisition. An NBA champion and former starter in Golden State, Ezeli will definitely be a force in the paint. In addition, he is a slightly different type of center than Miles Plumlee, which should help in the development of an even more versatile and unpredictable game play.

What’s the same?

Guards. Although all the new acquisitions should help Blazers become a more universal squad, the biggest burden will yet again lie on the shoulders of Lillard and McCollum.

It may be a bold statement, but, in my opinion, Portland has a top-three back court in the league.  In addition, Lillard won’t be lacking any motivation to finally prove to everyone that he deserves to be at least an All-Star this year. Likewise, C.J. will have to show that last season wasn’t just a temporary bright spot.

Lillard has been improving his numbers virtually every season; last year he even crossed the boundary of a 25-point scoring average.

To illustrate how tough it is to reach such numbers, I’ll just note that besides him only five other players in the whole NBA were able to reach that. I expect nothing less from the Blazers’ leader this season. With the additions of Turner and Ezeli, Lillard should be able to get even more high-quality shots and possibly score even more points on a higher percentage.

As for McCollum, well, he’ll remain the team’s second-best player. Like anyone else, Lillard will have off-nights and that’s when Portland will need McCollum to step up. Most days, however, the Blazers may be near-impossible to stop when their two guards get going.

It’s no wonder that Portland had such an exciting face-off against the Warriors in last season’s playoffs while playing Golden State’s game by their rules. I can hardly imagine any other team in the league going at it like that against the Warriors, but the Blazers did and they will be even more ready this year, so don’t be surprised to see some high-scoring thrilling matches between those two teams.

Key To Victory

Defense. The Trail Blazers should be a much better defensive team than last year with the additions of Ezeli and Turner. What’s even scarier, though, is that they will likely be an even better offensive team as well.

They were sixth in the entire league on both points per contest and offensive rating. With those statistics seemingly en route to a continued improvement, it probably wouldn’t be a wise decision to try the “let’s see who can score more” approach. Defensive impact will be extremely important, and especially the perimeter defense on Portland’s most prolific scorers.

If Wolves can limit the efficiency of Blazers’ starting guards, it would be a big step towards a victory.


A split wouldn’t be a bad result here, and Wolves would probably be happy if that happens. However, with the teams being so evenly-matched, anything can happen.

A crucial factor here will probably be performance in the clutch. If Minnesota can handle themselves better during the last minutes of the games, they can surely win this series. And with the Northwest Division being the most competitive it has been in years, every victory against some of their main rivals could be decisive.

Next: What are NBA scouts saying about the Wolves?

The first of the four games against the Blazers will take place on January 1st in Minnesota.