Minnesota Timberwolves (4-12) vs. Golden State Warriors (7-9) at Target Center
Despite much-needed changes to the ownership of the team and the coaching staff, the Golden State Warriors still have a team full of poor defenders and questionable talents, as well as the issue of their two best players essentially playing the same position. New addition David Lee, who helped the team to a 6-2 start, has missed the past eight games with a lacerated elbow, over which the Warriors have gone 1-7.
On Friday night, Lee was cleared to return and is considered a game-time decision for tonight.
For their part, the Wolves are about ready to turn that corner. We have mastered how to play the first 46 minutes of the game, but unfortunately, the team has developed a nasty habit of blowing leads in the final 2. Now we have some reps under our belt, and as long as the zebras stop making terrible calls against us (see: Stephen Jackson foul on Tolliver and phantom Wes foul on Gary Neal), the wins should start coming.
Let's take a look at tonight's match ups:
The textbook form of Andris Biedrins, who is shooting 31% from the foul line this season, 15% higher than last year.
Darko Milicic vs. Andris Biedrins
Last night in the Warriors' loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Andris Biedrins recorded season highs of 28 points and 21 rebounds. Biedrins is a solid finisher around the rim, an above average rebounder and a guy who can block a few shots now and again. He is woeful on defense, however, and lacks the muscle of the basketball IQ to adequately defender the post.
That wouldn't be a bad package at $4 million a year. Except, Biedrins is set to be paid $9,000,000 this season. So, would you rather have Darko and an extra $5 million or Andris Biedrins? Actually, keep the $5 million and I'll still take the Serbian.
A lot has been written about Darko on this site over the past few weeks, so there's no need to exhaust this angle.
But it must be said again that Darko Milicic thoroughly outplayed Tim Duncan on Wednesday night. He didn't just outplay him by a little bit. He destroyed him. Could Andris Biedrins do that if he had 100 chances? I say no.
Winner: Darko Milicic
Kevin Love vs. David Lee
Kevin Love and David Lee are often compared to one another. After all, they have several similarities. Both are superb rebounders. Both are below average defenders. Both are...um....hold on, I'll think of another one...
Actually, these guys aren't much alike at all. David Lee works better in the pick-and-roll. Kevin Love works better in the pick-and-pop and playing off the ball. David Lee runs the break and finishes well. Kevin Love starts the break, but also finishes fairly well. David Lee is more athletic. Kevin Love is a better shooter.
Even the areas where they are similar are not that similar. Kevin Love is not a great defender. But David Lee could be one of the worst post defenders in the league. Last year, he drew just 8 offensive fouls all season (in 81 games) and averaged only one block, steal or charge for every 22.7 minutes, the worst rate of any center. He can't block shots and he apparently doesn't know the definition of help defense.
David Lee is a solid rebounder, but Kevin Love laughs at solid. Kevin Love could get David Lee's rebounding rate if his Wolves' jersey was made of Kevlar. David Lee isn't the poor man's Kevin Love. He's the homeless shelter version of Kevin Love. If Kevin Love is an Oreo cookie, David Lee would be one of those terrible gluten-free Oreo cookie substitutes. There is no comparison.
Winner: Kevin Love
Michael Beasley vs. Dorell Wright
After finally getting minutes last year with Miami, the Warriors signed Dorell Wright to a contract this offseason and Wright immediately found himself in the starting role for Golden State. While his usage has increased substantially for Golden State, he is shooting only 39% from the floor and does not have the handle to create his own shot. For a guy who appears better in a spot-up-shooter role, Wright's defense has been woeful and he seems to give up big games to opposing wings on a regular basis (see: 25 points to Rudy Gay last night).
Given that Wright does not have the length or the strength to bother a guy like Michael Beasley, its likely to be more of the same tonight. Beasley, who will be looking to come back strong after a sub-par performance against the Spurs, should have no problems restarting his 25+ point game streak.
It will be nice to see Wright's backup, former T'Wolf Rodney Carney, back at the Target Center. I always liked Carney's energy and his knack for knocking down corner threes. Once the game starts, however, he's gonna get smashed like everybody else on the 'Dubs.
Winner: Michael Beasley
In 16 games this season, Monta Ellis has taken 315 shots, which is 2nd in the league next to Kobe Bryant's 318, and is nearly 100 more than the next closest Warrior (Stephen Curry). Unfortunately, the problem for Ellis is that he is not a good jump shooter and many of his shots are contested Js early in the shot clock. Since he plays on a fast-paced team that averages a lot of possession, his stats look gaudy. But last season, Ellis was 47th among shooting guards in TS% and had the single worst point differential in basketball (the Warriors were 11.4 points per 100 possessions better without Ellis).
Wesley Johnson, on the other hand, is one of the best passers from the wing that the Wolves have had in some time. He's unselfish, he has good court vision - and although his handle is not great - he has started to become a more forceful playmaker on offense. Against the Spurs, Wes was easily the third best Wolf on the court (next to Darko and Love) and our team's play went noticeably downward after he fouled out of the game.
Given all of that, Monta will likely go for his tonight and will probably score his 20+ points. But it is worth wondering whether the Warriors would have done better if Ellis had stayed home instead.
Winner: Wesley Johnson
If I had the chance to do it over again, I'd still take Jonny Flynn.
Luke Ridnour vs. Stephen Curry
I know there are a lot of Wolves fans who wish that Stephen Curry was playing for our team right now. Some fans have formed a "Bizarro Timberwolves" that is comprised of players they feel we should have drafted. Curry is one of the captains of that team and is frequently used as an argument against David Kahn's brilliance.
That's fine. But I don't root for the Bizarro Timberwolves. I root for the Minnesota Timberwolves. And Stephen Curry doesn't play for that team. There is not a single GM in the NBA - past or present - who has made perfect draft selections. 20 teams passed on Rajon Rondo. 12 teams passed on Kobe Bryant. 14 passed on Steve Nash. It's not a perfect science.
That being said, David Kahn made the right decision regarding Curry vs. Flynn. Sure, Curry is a fine player. But is he that much better than Flynn? Let's break it down:
Curry has a nice shot with a quick release...so does Flynn.
Curry has a good handle...check.
Curry is a great pick-and-role operator who makes a few too many turnovers and has a fairly low assist rate...check and check.
Curry is not a great defender...same with Flynn.
Last year, Curry played in a system that emphasized his strengths, while Flynn played in a system that did just the opposite. If they had switched places, perhaps people would be making the opposite argument. When Flynn returns to the team, we'll see if it was fair for us to determine the entire arc of Flynn's career based off of a season helming the point-guard spot in one of the toughest offensive systems in the NBA with some of the worst offensive options of any team.
For Minnesota, Steph Curry is like the hot girl (or guy) who lives across the street / hall. Sure, she might be pretty. But there's nothing that she can do that the girl next to you can't do. You just have to give her the opportunity.
Winner: Jonny Flynn
Of course, the Warriors have a better future outlook now that Chris Cohen and most-overrated-coach-ever Don Nelson have been ousted from the Bay Area. But as the Wolves have learned, turnaround can take a while and it might be a couple of years before Golden State is ready to climb out of the basement.
The Wolves have already started their ascent. We have at least three players who should be locks for the All-Star game and plenty more who are on the bubble. Tonight, we should not only get the moral victory, but should also get the statistical victory as well.
My prediction: Timberwolves 118 - Golden State 105
Timberwolves Record: 17-0 (5-12 according to the biased NBA folks)