4-23 Minnesota at 16-12 Portland

Minnesota is abominable at home (3-13) and worse on the road (1-10). They play to the speed of their opponents, are out manned every night, and have some of their better players (Randy Foye, acquired from Portland for some stiff named Brandon Roy...) out injured. They have lost something like 9 out of 10 games.

Portland, meanwhile, is on a roll, having won 11 straight including multiple wins over teams that were considered the divisions' best when the season started (Utah and Denver). By no stretch of the imagination should this be considered winnable for a bad, bad Minnesota team against a Portland team that is starting to look like an above average team.


There it is. I have become a doubter. I am going to outline the way this could become a "trap game" for Portland. Do I think it will happen? No. But I do see the possibility if several things happen.

First off, we all know how much Aldridge loves to play and how disappointed he was with his performance against the Supersonics. So he, being a young player, might come out pressing. That tends to lead to turnovers, missed shots, squandered possessions, and a stalled offense that simultaneously creates numerous extra scoring options for the opposition.

Second, this is the return to Portland of Sebastian Telfair. He has had flashes, brilliant games such as his 28 point, 11 assist performance in the Timberwolf win over the Pacers last week. He might still be motivated to prove Portland erred in giving up on him.

Third, Theo Ratliffe still has the potential to dominate a game defensively. If Portland is driving a lot and he is turning back shot after shot it could get ugly quickly.

Finally, Antoine Walker can still explode from time to time.

Now, I do think these circumstances are unlikely. I believe Portland is too talented, has too much leadership, poise, and the coaching is too good for them to overlook Minnesota. I do not believe Aldridge is a selfish player who will look for personal "redemption" at the cost of the team. Nor do I believe he needs redemption. He has contributed far more to many Blazer wins than any struggles he encounters will cause them difficulty. Everyone has an occasional bad game, the key is to just play his game and let it come to him.

That is one benefit of having a guy like Brandon Roy around. He had his own struggles earlier in the season and seems to have bounced back okay...

In the long run, the most likely outcome is a Portland win by blow-out. It will provide a pretty clear illustration of one thing; who the true league MVP is.

Huh? The guy who SHOULD win the MVP will not be playing in this game. However, a quick look at 3 teams will show what I mean.

The first team is the Knicks. Last year they had a TON of shooting power in their back court between Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis. Where did it get them? There is a reason the Knicks were looking to buy out Francis and why Marbury has become persona non gratis this year. Shooters are nice...but they are complementary.

The second team is Minnesota. They were not great by any standard of measure, finishing with the same 32-50 record as Portland did. Yet they have some nice pieces in place. They have a penetrating point guard in Telfair, they have complementary scoring available in Antoine Walker (though his averages are down he is still a capable scorer), and a talented front court player in Al Jefferson (20 points, 12 rebounds per contest). Yet they cannot win.

Then you have Boston. They have had 2 scorers before...remember when Pierce and Walker were throwing in 25 a night? Boston was stinking up the league. Boston with Allen and Pierce is New York from last year...a team where on any given night one or both stud scorers can get hot and almost single-handedly win the game but just as often will have "average" nights, not get help, and lose the game.

Boston with Allen, Pierce and Garnett? Pure gold. All aspersions on their schedule aside, Boston has done what other teams with "soft" schedules have not done...they have won those games. They are not losing games they are supposed to win. What is the difference between the below average, 2 scorer Knicks of last year, the average T-wolves of last year as compared to the pathetic Minnesota 5 of this year, and the bad Boston Pierce-Walker teams of a few years ago and the title contenders of this year?

Kevin Garnett. It is not just his scoring and rebounding...Al Jefferson has numbers nearly as good as he had with Minnesota last year. It is his presence...he facilitates other things happening. He plays great team defense. He passes. He takes over games when needed. He makes the difference between a team with 2 or 3 scorers that loses a lot and a team that could contend for a title. And that is the definition of an MVP. He makes everyone better, makes an okay team great.

Here is a fearless prediction: Minnesota will miss him in the Friday game. Portland will blow them out.