The Wolves and Blazers used to have something of an internet rivalry. I suppose it originated with the 2006 draft-night trade of Brandon Roy for Randy Foye. Draft decisions and especially draft trades can create lasting links between franchises that necessitate ongoing comparisons. Flipping the 6th and 7th picks was bound to do that for these two teams. That Minnesota and Portland play in the same Northwest Division, guaranteeing four annual matchups and a vague sense of shared league geography, only accentuated the fan consciousness of how the other team was doing.
For us, this was not favorable. Roy’s career, while cut tragically short via missing menisci (eds note: even if David Kahn did not get the memo when he later signed Roy out of medical retirement), was wonderful. He won Rookie of the Year and made three straight All-Star teams. It wasn’t just Roy either. Not even close, actually. In the same 2006 Draft, the Blazers traded up to acquire LaMarcus Aldridge. Never a superstar of Roy’s caliber, Aldridge was a steady two-way player who has gone on to make six All-Star teams of his own. And, of course, they had Greg Oden. In the stretches between 2008 and 2010 when all of Roy, Aldridge, and Oden were on the floor, the Blazers had the undisputed Team of the Future.
In the four seasons spanning from 2007-08 through 2010-11, the Blazers won 41, 54, 50, and 48 games. By the end of that stretch, Roy’s knees were grinding dust and Oden was gone. But for much of it, Portland was the up-and-coming team to watch.
Minnesota, by contrast, was miserable. Some of it was simple rebuilding. They traded away a franchise-player veteran for a pile of young upside. Al Jefferson was good. Ryan Gomes and Sebastian Telfair were serviceable. Theo Ratliff was hurt and his expiring contract was un-utilized. Gerald Green sucked. Some of it was poor management. They drafted intelligently once (Kevin Love in 2008) and then stupidly twice (Jonny Flynn and Wes Johnson in 2009-10). Some of it was bad coaching. Randy Wittman. Kurt Rambis. Some of it was bad luck. Al Jefferson tore his ACL in early 2010 when he was playing like a fringe All-Star and the team was finally starting to win games.
But add up the shaky front office moves, poor coaching, unlucky injuries, and the rebuilding starting point… it was rough. In that ’07-08 through ’10-11 stretch, the Wolves won 22, 24, 15, and 17 games. In their 16 matchups with Portland, they lost 16 times.
The Blazers were like the Wolves’ bully older brother of the Northwest Division.
Anyway, that’s some random background about these clubs that I sometimes think about. Since that era, the Wolves have had different team links. People will never stop talking about Kahn passing on Steph Curry in 2009. For that, Wolves-Warriors carries a bit of extra meaning. And with the Jimmy Butler trade, Taj Gibson signing, and Tom Thibodeau franchise leadership, the Wolves and Bulls will be compared for years to come.
It’s a way to supply this long season with layers of intrigue. Portland seems like a phenomenal basketball city, and if both of these teams ever become great at the same time, I would enjoy the internet banter that goes along with it.
It wasn’t a good one for the visiting Timberwolves. After a first half where they mostly held small leads but were tied at the break, they were blown off the Rose Garden floor in the second. They stopped doing the stuff that was working (feed Wiggins and let him drive into the lane) and REALLY gave up on playing any semblance of aggressive defense.
On the other end of the floor, the Blazers played Peak Terry Stotts basketball, spreading the Wolves defense out and abusing them with ball screen action for Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The Blazers got hot from downtown and never turned back. And the Wolves defense never really encouraged them to do so. The Blazers scored 43 points in the third quarter, hitting 7 threes in that period alone. Their lead grew to 19 in the fourth quarter and the game never really seemed in doubt.
This play was a dagger, even if just an emotional one:
ALLEY-OOP OF THE SEASON AND IT AIN'T CLOSE pic.twitter.com/luJh8UGHf4
— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) January 25, 2018
Jimmy Butler did not play in this game, the third consecutive that he’s missed due to right knee soreness. This meant three things:
- Wiggins got more touches again, and used those touches effectively again. Wig dropped 24 points in 32 minutes of action in this one and was one of the only things that went right for the Wolves.
- The team defense was bad. Yes, Portland shot well, but that’s what Portland does. The idea is to defend their shooters so they have to try other things. In this game, Lillard (31 points) and McCollum (28 points) pretty much did what they wanted, when they wanted. Jimmy would’ve helped prevent that from happening.
- Jimmy’s knee issue lingers on. Hopefully it’s nothing too serious, but the longer any player sits out with vague knee soreness, the more we have to worry that it’s a real problem.
Here’s the final box: