Minnesota Timberwolves (11-0) vs. Atlanta Hawks (8-4) at Philips Arena
When the Atlanta Hawks received word that their franchise center, Al Horford, would likely miss the bulk of the regular season, the team responded with a 111-81 blowout victory over the Charlotte Hornets. Zaza Pachulia, who has taken Horford's place in the starting lineup, had 10 points and 10 rebounds in 32 minutes.
For their part, the Wolves defeated the New Orleans Hornets last night, 87-80, thanks to solid defense and a strong performance from Kevin Love. The Wolves will be without Michael Beasley and J.J. Barea once again.
The Hawks have defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves in 11 straight games...but none of those 11 games involved Ricky Rubio.
Let's break down the matchups below:
Before Zaza became an NBA basketball player, he had a successful career as a male model back in Tbilisi.
Darko Milicic vs. Zaza Pachulia
While stereotypes are not usually that close to reality, in this case, Zaza Pachulia fits the stereotype of the European banger to a tee. He is physical, he fouls a lot and he does not block shots very much. On offense, he has limited leaping ability, so he would rather use his body (or his head) to create contact and get to the free throw line.
That's all fine and dandy for a backup center who plays limited minutes. Now that Zaza is in the starting role, however, the Hawks will be looking to get more from this position. Against Charlotte, Zaza had 7 free throw attempts, which is 5 more than Wesley Johnson has had all season.
Darko will still be getting the start for the Timberwolves after a dominating 3-point, 4-rebound performance against the Hornets. It would great to see Nikola Pekovic start to get more minutes as he returns from injury.
Winner: Darko Milicic
"Hey, ref...what to see my impression of a grizzly bear?"
Kevin Love vs. Josh Smith
Teammate Joe Johnson said that Josh Smith is playing this season with "a chip on his shoulder". If that chip is a Dorito, it would be fitting, since they are also spectacularly packaged but are filled with starches and artificial ingredients. In his last three games against Minnesota, Smith has averaged 23.3 points and 9.3 rebounds.
Kevin Love had 34 points and 15 rebounds last night against the New Orleans Hornets and is averaging almost 25/15 per game this season. Love is searching for his first career win against Smith and the Hawks, after having lost his last 6.
Remember when people wanted to try and trade Love and filler for Josh Smith? Is there anyone left who is not in the Hawks' organization who would approve that deal now?
Winner: Kevin Love
"70's Night isn't until next week, Vladimir." "What's 70's night?"
Wesley Johnson vs. Vladimir Radmanovic
Vladimir Radmanovic is on his 6th team in as many years and is having to fill in as a start due to the injury to Marvin Williams. Radmanovic is a great shooter, but has no ball handling, rebounding or defensive skills to speak of. He is pretty much useful for sitting beyond the three point line and hitting shots when the ball is passed to him.
In other words, he is Wesley Johnson's ceiling. Just kidding. Johnson actually did have 8 rebounds in last night's game and played solid defense for the 34 minutes he was on the court. He only shot 4-of-13, including 1-of-8 from three point range, but it is nice to see him contribute in other areas.
57-year-old Jerry Stackhouse may also get some minutes in this spot for Atlanta tonight. Little known fact: Stackhouse is the first professional athlete to sign a shoe deal with AARP.
Winner: Wesley Johnson
It's nice to see that a man who gets paid as much as Joe Johnson still shops at places like Old Navy for his wardrobe. Joe was able to get that hoodie for only $15.
Luke Ridnour vs. Joe Johnson
The Minnesota Timberwolves' point-guard situation has turned into the quarterback controversy from the movie Any Given Sunday. Ricky Rubio is the newcomer Willie Beamen. The flashy, explosive point guard who wows the crowd and is already a fan favorite in Minnesota even after just three weeks of the regular season.
Luke Ridnour is Cap Rooney, the aging quarterback who has lost his spot and his popularity to Beamen and is searching for his spot in this new dynamic. David Kahn can be Christina Pagniacci - the overly ambitious, but woefully underqualified, decision maker for the team - in this metaphor. Joe Johnson is just some extra on one of those no name loser teams.
At the end of the movie, it takes both Rooney and Beamen to win the game for the Miami Sharks. Ridnour and Rubio will learn to co-exist in the same way.
Winner: Luke Ridnour
Ricky Rubio vs. Jeff Teague
Ricky Rubio logged his first start in the NBA last night against the Hornets. He ended up going 3-of-7 from the floor (6-of-6 from the line) for 12 points, 9 assists and 3 steals. He is also 3rd amongst guards in the Western Conference All-Star voting (behind Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul). If you have yet to vote for Mr. Rubio, go to www.nba.com and get on it. Vote once per day. Go to a friend's computer and vote there, too. Get your relatives to vote. Do whatever you have to do.
Jeff Teague had 16 points and 7 assists against the Bobcats on Thursday night. Teague is a below average outside shooter and a subpar passer who can defend, but is not efficient on the offensive side of the ball. Last season, he made under a third of his shots from beyond 15 feet. Stop him from getting into the paint and you have effectively neutralized Mr. Teague.
Winner: Ricky Rubio
It will not be thumbs up for the Hawks tonight after the Wolves break their 5-year long losing streak.
My Prediction: Timberwolves 103 - Atlanta Hawks 93
Timberwolves' Record: 12-0