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Marty Burns' Breakdown
Portland     Minnesota 
The Blazers love to run their offense through 7'3" Arvydas Sabonis, one of the best-passing pivots in the game and a genuine threat from downtown. Sabonis missed several games in March because of a sprained right foot but appears to be healthy again.  CENTER

The Edge:
  

Radoslav Nesterovic will have his hands full trying to keep the clever Sabonis from carving up the Wolves with his passes. Nesterovic also must convert his rare scoring opportunities to keep Portland's big men honest. 

Rasheed Wallace and Scottie Pippen give Portland as good a 1-2 frontcourt punch as any team in the league. Wallace has the size at 6'11" to keep Kevin Garnett in check, while Pippen can score, pass and create havoc on defense. Brian Grant, rounding into form after an injury-plagued season, provides low-post defense and rebounding.  FORWARDS

The Edge:
  

Garnett is the best player on either team, a force on both ends who can single-handedly carry his team. He's also an emotional leader who won't let his team quit. If rookie Wally Szczerbiak can handle the postseason pressure, the Wolves can win the forward matchup, because reserves Joe Smith and Sam Mitchell are solid. 

Damon Stoudamire and Steve Smith have all-star names, but their games this year haven't always reflected it. Still, Stoudamire can be explosive, and the 6'8" Smith is difficult to shoot over. In addition, look for defensive-specialist Greg Anthony and scoring machine Bonzi Wells to play key roles off the bench in this series.   GUARDS

The Edge:
  

Terrell Brandon remains one of the most underrated point guards in the league, and he always seems to get the best of fellow Portland-native Stoudamire. Brandon's decision-making off the pick-and-roll is a key to the Wolves offense. Malik Sealy and Anthony Peeler must consistently knock down jump shots, or Minnesota has no chance. 

Much has been made of Portland's depth all season, but in the playoffs it won't matter as much. Still, the Blazers get the edge because Grant, Detlef Schrempf and Jermaine O'Neal give them big bodies to defend Garnett if the starters get in foul trouble.  BENCH

The Edge:
   

Other than Smith, the Wolves don't really have any consistent scorer off the bench. Peeler is streaky, Mitchell a role player and backup center Dean Garrett just a big body. 

After a mid-season slump, the Blazers seem to have regained their footing entering the postseason. They also have ample veteran leadership in proven postseason players like Pippen, Schrempf and Smith. However, their lack of a clear go-to guy and the pressure of high expectations could do them in.  INTANGIBLES

The Edge:
   

After three straight first-round playoff exits, the Wolves are desperate to reach the second round. With a 2-2 record against the Blazers this year, including a victory at the Rose Garden, they also are highly confident. Garnett's competitiveness, and the fact they have nothing to lose, gives them an edge. 

Mike Dunleavy always prepares his team adequately, but rumors are swirling he could be fired if the team chokes in the postseason . Will his players fight to the death for him?  COACH

The Edge:
   

Flip Saunders is one of the more underrated coaches in the NBA. The Wolves lead the league in FG% and are third-best in fewest turnovers. They also win the close ones: Minnesota has an 11-4 record in games decided by three points or less.  

The volatile Wallace, who led the NBA with 30-plus technical fouls, can be thrown off his game by the referees. He must keep his focus on Garnett -- and not on the zebras -- or the Blazers could find themselves in trouble.  'X' FACTOR

The Edge:
   

Brandon always seems to save his best for Stoudamire, his former pupil on the Portland playgrounds. If he channels the motivation properly -- and perhaps gets inside Damon's head -- the Timberwolves can pull off the shocker. 
Burns' Prediction: Timberwolves in 5
 

Sports Illustrated staff writer Marty Burns covers pro basketball for CNNSI.com. Look for his columns on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Click here to send Marty a comment.


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