|Marty Burns' Breakdown|
| 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
| 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
| 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
| 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.
| 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
| 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
| 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.
| 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
| 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
| 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
|| 'X' FACTOR
| 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|