December 10, 2014

Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers have already capitalized on the Minnesota Timberwolves' struggles at home.

If Karl-Anthony Towns is going to help prevent that from happening again, the star rookie center will need to spend less time on Minnesota's bench.

Lillard goes for another impressive shooting display at Target Center while Towns looks to get more involved and re-establish himself as a presence in the post Saturday night.

Minnesota has lost seven of nine on its own court, giving up an average of 103.4 points and 46.9 percent shooting. One of those defeats came in the home opener Nov. 2 when Lillard scored 34 points and hit 14 of 25 from the floor - 4 of 9 from 3-point range - in Portland's 106-101 victory.

Lillard is averaging 29.7 points and shooting 47.2 percent over the last three visits to Minnesota, and the Trail Blazers (8-12) have won 27 of their last 32 overall against the Wolves (8-10).

He's seventh in the league with 24.5 points per game, while fellow guard C.J. McCollum averages 19.6 in his first season as a starter. He scored 6.8 while starting three of 62 games in 2014-15.

Lillard and McCollum combined for 47 points and shot 8 for 18 from beyond the arc in Thursday's 123-111 win over Indiana.

"Lillard and McCollum will come off and shoot it from anywhere," guard Zach LaVine told the Timberwolves' official website. "They have the ability and they have the confidence and they're allowed to shoot those shots.

"Like Steph Curry, you know, he's allowed to shoot any shot as well, so that gives you confidence and when a dude has confidence in the NBA, it's scary."

The same certainly applies to Towns, the top pick in last summer's draft who was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month on Thursday despite dwindling playing time.

He averaged 16.0 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in nearly 30 minutes through the first 13 games, but those numbers have dropped to 8.4, 6.0 and 1.6 in just over 22 minutes in the last five. Towns has played a total of 2 minutes, 42 seconds in the fourth quarter in his last four contests.

Towns didn't even make it off the bench in the final quarter Tuesday, making 2 of 11 field-goal attempts and finishing with six points and as many rebounds in a 96-93 loss to visiting Orlando.

Backup Gorgui Dieng played all but three seconds of the fourth quarter, scoring five of his 11 points and pulling down four of his seven boards. He's averaging 11.0 points and 8.2 rebounds over the last five games.

"There's nothing wrong with Karl sitting there some nights and learning what to do," interim coach Sam Mitchell said. "And he has plenty of opportunities. We won games with Karl finishing games. We won games with (Dieng) finishing games.

"It's 18 games into Karl's career, guys. Why are we going to burn him out 18 games into a 20-year-old's career? It doesn't make sense."

Towns had 11 points against Portland last month, while Andrew Wiggins was held to 16 and made 5 of 17 from the floor.

Wiggins, last season's Rookie of the Year, had 27 points against the Magic. He's averaging 21.5 over his last four matchups with the Blazers.

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