Timberwolves-Trail Blazers Preview
The only number on the mind of the Portland Trail Blazers in the middle of April is their seed in the Western Conference, not their number on a ping-pong ball as many expected.
Seeking their first nine-game home winning streak in three years, the surging Blazers try to finish a sweep of a Minnesota club they've dominated in Portland over the last decade on Saturday night.
Portland won 120-115 against Oklahoma City on Wednesday, its sixth in seven games to clinch its sixth postseason berth in eight seasons. The franchise is seemingly well ahead of schedule considering it appeared to be entering a rebuilding phase after losing three of its top four scorers from 2014-15.
The Trail Blazers (43-37) looked destined for the draft lottery earlier on, starting 11-20.
"We came back from whatever our record was in December to put together a run and stayed with the process," coach Terry Stotts said. "It's been very rewarding."
They're the league's first team to reach the playoffs despite returning two or fewer players with 1,000-plus minutes from the previous season.
"Because there was so much doubt," point guard Damian Lillard said. "It wasn't just people saying they're not going to be a playoff team. People said we wouldn't win 20 games."
Lillard, the league's sixth-leading scorer at 25.0 points per game, was 2 for 13 in his worst shooting performance of the season Wednesday and has shot 32.1 percent over his last eight contests.
Portland has a half-game lead over Memphis for fifth-place in the West after trailing the Grizzlies by five games through March 4. The Blazers close out Wednesday against visiting Denver while the Grizzlies face a more difficult road, sandwiching two contests versus Golden State around a visit to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Portland and Memphis split their season series, but the Trail Blazers' 28-22 conference record gives them the tiebreaker over the Grizzlies, who are 25-24 against the West.
Portland has also won 19 of 22 at home and is going for its first nine-game home win streak since Dec. 10, 2012-Jan. 10, 2013. It has averaged 13.3 made 3s in its last four at home while shooting 47.7 percent from beyond the arc.
The Trail Blazers haven't lost to the Timberwolves at home since 2012, winning 19 of the last 20 in Portland versus Minnesota, which is 14-26 on the road but has won five of eight as the visitor.
Portland won the first three matchups by a combined 14 points. A 96-93 home victory Jan. 31 came in spite of a 6-for-27 3-point performance.
The Timberwolves (27-52) are seeking their first three-game winning streak since Nov. 23-27. They followed Tuesday's overtime victory over NBA-leading Golden State with a 105-97 win at Sacramento on Thursday.
Five players scored 15 or more against the Kings and the team recorded 25 assists on 36 field goals.
"The win was nice. But the main thing for us is building for next season," said Zach LaVine, who scored 18. "We want to be in the playoffs next season, so right now we are playing hard and training ourselves for that."
Andrew Wiggins is shooting 53.4 percent over his last four games and has scored 30 or more three times in his last six, though he's struggled with his shot more against Portland than any other foe this season. Wiggins is 14 for 50 (28.0 percent) from the floor against the Trail Blazers, shooting a career-worst 3 of 18 at Portland in January.