Golden State (51-15) missed an opportunity to take over the top seed in the Western Conference on Friday night as they lost 125-108 to the Portland Trail Blazers. Kevin Durant picked up the scoring slack with Stephen Curry sidelined with an ankle injury, scoring 40 points, but the Warriors struggled to contain Damian Lillard and C. J. McCollum, who combined for 58 points and nine of Portland’s 16 3-pointers.
Curry will also sit out this game, and the Warriors have gone 11-5 without him this season. They are also without rookie Jordan Bell, while veteran swingman Andre Iguodala could miss a third straight game with a sore ankle. Golden State are trying to avoid losing back-to-back games for just the second time this season and the fourth time since the start of the 2015/16 season.
Minnesota (38-29) are tied with Oklahoma City for sixth in the Western Conference and part of an eight-way scramble for the final six playoff spots with the teams separated by just four games entering play Saturday. The Timberwolves fell to 2-3 without All-Star guard Jimmy Butler, who is out with a torn meniscus, and have dropped three straight after a 117-109 loss at home to Boston on Thursday night.
Nemanja Bjelica, who averages 6.5 points, scored a career-high 30 while Karl-Anthony Towns added 15 and 11 rebounds, but Andrew Wiggins went six of 21 from the field, including one of eight from 3-point range, and finished with 13 points.
While the Warriors have the offensive depth to withstand the loss of Curry, the Timberwolves are still trying to find their sea legs without Butler, who averages 22.2 points. Minnesota are 4-7 without him, including 2-5 against opponents with winning records.
Three keys to the game
Is there reason to worry in the Bay? - This was the second straight game the Warriors have lost to the Trail Blazers, who withstood a 50-point effort and a full-strength Golden State squad in a 123-117 win over the champions February 14. Steve Kerr's team was out-rebounded 46-33, and the revamped bench contributed only 17 points, but what got Kerr agitated was his team committing seven fourth-quarter fouls that killed any chance of a comeback.
“I really liked our fight and competitive spirit. But we have to be smarter,” Kerr told The Mercury News. “We did not play a smart and focused game tonight. It cost us.”
Who is Nemanja Bjelica? - The 29-year-old stretch forward was originally drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft by the Washington Wizards and has rights traded to the Timberwolves that summer before he played overseas in Spain and Turkey before rejoining Minnesota in 2015. He had started just one game in his first two seasons and made four starts in late January when Butler had a sore right knee.
In his five starts in this stint, Bjelica has averaged 14.0 points and 8.6 rebounds while making 11 of 23 from 3-point range and shooting 54.2 percent overall.
Green one technical shy of a one-game suspension - Warriors forward Draymond Green picked up his 15th technical foul in Friday's loss, which means the next one he gets whistled for will result in an automatic one-game suspension from the league. He had 14 all of last season and his 29 technicals since the start of 2016/17 are the most of any player in the NBA.
Matchup to watch
PF Kevin Durant vs SF Nemanja Bjelica - Technically, the 6' 10" Bjelica is a small forward because Taj Gibson does the dirty work on both ends of the court in the low post. Gibson, though, doesn't have the size to counter Durant and Bjelica doesn't have the speed to stay in front of Green, which results in what could be a long night for the third-year forward.
Durant has averaged 29.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.6 assists in the 15 games he has played without Curry, with the Warriors going 11-4, but what stands out is his shooting. Despite averaging 20.4 shots in those games, Durant is shooting 40.7 percent from beyond the arc and 50.2 percent overall.
Golden State Warriors projected starting lineup
PG - Quinn Cook | SG - Klay Thompson | C - JaVale McGee | SF - Draymond Green | PF - Kevin Durant
Minnesota Timberwolves projected starting lineup
PG - Jeff Teague | SG - Andrew Wiggins | C - Karl-Anthony Towns | SF - Nemanja Bjelica | PF - Taj Gibson
Durant missed the first game between the teams and made up for lost time in the most recent meeting January 25, recording a triple-double with 28 points, 11 assists and ten rebounds while hitting six of nine from 3-point range in Golden State's 126-113 home win.
He has averaged 27.4 points and 7.2 rebounds while shooting 43.5 percent from deep and 50.1 percent overall in 35 lifetime meetings with Minnesota, and two of his ten career triple-doubles have come against them.
Warriors guard Klay Thompson did Durant one better in that January win, drilling seven of nine from beyond the arc and scoring 25 points. He has given the Wolves fits in both games this season, totaling 53 points while making 13 of 21 from 3-point range and shooting 60.6 percent overall.
Thompson has averaged 22.0 points in 23 games against Minnesota, making 42.2 percent of his 3-point shots as the Warriors have won 19 of those contests.
Towns has posted double-doubles in both games against the Warriors and had 31 points and 11 rebounds to go with five assists in the most recent contest. He has six double-doubles in nine career games versus them, averaging 21.7 points and 11.0 rebounds while shooting 52.3 percent.
Wiggins has yet to find his shooting stroke against Golden State, going one of six from beyond the arc and ten of 32 overall while totaling 27 points. He has reached double figures in all but one of his 13 matchups with the Warriors, averaging 18.9 points and 3.3 assists, but Wiggins has been on the winning end of just two of those games.
Without the star power of both Curry and Butler, the Warriors are 4.5-point favorites for this game, with the line moving one point in Golden State's direction since its open. Yet the Warriors do not have many trends in their favor; they have failed to cover in their last five road games, are 1-5 against the spread in their last six overall and their last six versus Northwest Division teams.
Golden State have also covered just once in their last five trips to Minnesota and are 3-8-1 against the spread in the last 12 meetings between the teams.
Minnesota's recent struggles have also put them on the bettors' bad side as they have failed to cover in their last six matchups with teams who have a winning record and have covered just twice in their last 11 games overall. The Timberwolves have covered once in their last five home games and once in their last seven versus conference rivals.
The over/under is 222 points, and the under has dominated when these teams meet, going 13-3 in the last 16 games at Target Center and 21-8 in the last 29 overall. The under has been trending with Golden State, going 4-1 in the last five games and 9-4 in their last 13 on the road when facing an opponent with a winning percentage above .600.
The over has been on Minnesota's side of late, hitting in their last five versus Pacific Division teams, their last six at home and ten times in the last 12 games overall.
It sounds counterintuitive on the surface, but watching the Warriors play when Curry is sidelined is almost more fun because it means Durant lets loose and fires from everywhere. For a team that takes everyone's best shot, going 11-4 without arguably their best player takes a lot of work.
And while Durant becomes the alpha dog in these situations, Thompson is more than capable of being his running partner. He has averaged 20.3 points in 15 games without Curry, shooting 42.0 percent from 3-point range and 44.0 percent overall.
Wiggins has yet to find a comfort zone at shooting guard, but the key for Minnesota offensively will be Towns. He has to win the matchup in the low post against JaVale McGee because if Towns can draw double teams, that gives Wiggins and Bjelica space to shoot on the perimeter.
This should be a competitive game, but Durant will likely take over this game and carry the Warriors down the stretch to a 117-110 victory.
The game will be televised nationally on ABC and nationally in Canada on SportsNet One. Tip-off time is 3:30 pm EDT.
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