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Wolves vs. Celtics Game Preview

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The 7-6 Boston Celtics travel to Minnesota for a meeting with the Wolves.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Minnesota Timberwolves Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

For the Wolves, it would have been nice if the schedule gods would have brought Boston to Minneapolis a week prior. A week ago, the Celtics were without two of their key cogs; Al Horford and Jae Crowder. Last week, without Horford and Crowder, the Celtics coughed up a loss to the 2-9 New Orleans Pelicans and equally terrible Golden State Warriors. (That was a joke.)

Al Horford and Jae Crowder looked no worse for the wear in their return to the Celtics' lineup, Saturday night, after missing the previous nine and eight games, respectively. On Saturday, the Celtics got back on track in spectacular fashion when Al Horford tipped in a game-winning near buzzer-beater over Aron Baynes and the Detroit Pistons.

For many reasons that play is quintessential Boston Celtics — things don’t quite work perfectly but all five players are in the right spot and shots just seem to fall at the right moment.

This is Celtics basketball in 2016. Their offense functions around the ability of Isaiah Thomas to effectively penetrate the lane. Thomas, an all-star last season, who comes in a fun-size package can get all the way to the rim, he can work in a floater, he can find the shooters around the perimeter, and he also puts to action the full utility belt of left-handed craftiness.

In theory, Thomas should be able to get into the lane, even more this season after the signing of equally crafty big man Al Horford. Horford is the king of the somewhat illegal screen. Bill Sly at Celticsblog.com highlights Horford’s screen-ology.

Horford may only be slightly faster than GIFs showcase, but he continues to be one of the leagues most effective centers. Horford posted a game-high +16 plus/minus in his return Saturday, but it is his impact off of the stat sheet that gives the Celtics serious upside potential in the Eastern Conference.

2014 NBA Draft Showing Out on a Monday

The Wolves, of course, have three of the top-15 picks from the 2014 NBA Draft on their roster. Wait three? Yes, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, and .... THE ADREIAN PAYNE TRAIN!!!! The Celtics also have what has turned into one of the formidable picks from that draft class — Marcus Smart.

With injuries to Horford and Crowder, Smart was bumped into a bigger role. As often happens when being moved to a bigger role, efficiency drops. Smart has been awful this season from an efficiency standpoint — 37.6 FG% / 30.8 3P% / 47.1 FT%.

Smart probably best profiles as a bench energy player. In one of my favorite hypothetical activities, it’s redraft the draft time!

  1. Andrew Wiggins (#1) - Rests his hands on his hips awkwardly (does anyone else notice this?), but good at basketball.
  2. Joel Embiid (#2) - Social Media Champion: @JoelEmbiid
  3. Zach LaVine (#13) - Love you Flip.
  4. Jabari Parker (#3) - Remember when he was compared to Paul Pierce out of the draft. LOL.
  5. Aaron Gordon (#4) - Playing the wrong position, but can jump really high. Hmm, reminds me of someone.
  6. Jordan Clarkson (#46) - Wow, 46.
  7. Nikola Jokic (#41) - I feel like someone will be mad about this. Jokic was hands down the third best rookie in the league last season behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis.
  8. Rodney Hood (#23) - My guy. #analysis
  9. Marcus Smart (#6) - Made the list for the sake of this article...
  10. Julius Randle (#7) - Upside?

Honorable Mention: Clint Capella (#25), Elfrid Payton (#10), Jusuf Nurkic (#16)

199. Adreian Payne (#15) - Sorry Adreian, I do not believe...

Before you get mad about Payne’s ranking, watch this video. Yes, that is Summer League.

Expected Starting Lineups (with Real Plus-Minus)

Minnesota Timberwolves

PG- Ricky Rubio

ORPM: .23 DRPM: -.95 RPM: -.72 (24th amongst PGs)

SG - Zach LaVine

ORPM: 2.35 DRPM: -2.73 RPM:-0.38 (19th amongst PGs, still listed as a PG?)

SF - Andrew Wiggins

ORPM: 2.21 DRPM: -2.42 RPM: -0.21 (28th amongst SFs)

PF - Gorgui Dieng

ORPM: -1.29 DRPM: 1.87 RPM: 0.58 (20th amongst PFs)

C - Karl-Anthony Towns

ORPM: 2.13 DRPM: -0.44 RPM: 1.69 (7th amongst Cs)

Boston Celtics

PG - Isaiah Thomas

ORPM: 4.78 DRPM: -2.47 RPM: 2.31 (8th amongst PGs)

SG - Avery Bradley

ORPM: 2.12 DRPM: -1.83 RPM: 0.29 (16th amongst SGs)

SF - Jae Crowder

ORPM: 0.02 DRPM: 1.10 RPM: 1.12 (15th amongst SFs)

PF - Amir Johnson

ORPM: 1.38 DRPM: 0.91 RPM: 2.29 (8th amongst PFs)

C - Al Horford

ORPM: -1.53 DRPM: 1.66 RPM: 0.13 (26th amongst Cs)

ESPN.com releases Real Plus-Minus numbers periodically over the course of the season. And while RPM is an inexact science, it is well respected amongst analytical nerds. (*raises hand*)

From a Wolves perspective, the LaVine, Wiggins, and Towns defensive numbers are disheartening. Maybe some of this can be accounted for by the fact that the three youngsters are always playing the beginning of the third quarter when the Wolves defensive engine doesn’t only completely turn off, but catches fire and explodes into little pieces of everything that makes me sad.

This Thanksgiving I am thankful that I do not have to watch the Timberwolves in the third quarter.

Other RPM notes:

  • Tyus Jones and Kris Dunn are ranked 20th and 22nd in the NBA amongst point guards, both ahead of Rubio.
  • Gorgui Dieng is the only starter with a positive Defensive Real Plus-Minus.
  • Nemanja Bjelica is 27th in the NBA amongst power forwards in RPM. ORPM: -0.63 DRPM: 0.79 RPM: 0.16
  • Cole Aldrich, advanced stats darling in past seasons, is profiling as a backup center (29th in RPM amongst Cs) with a, not surprising, positive DRPM: 1.88 but, also a not surprising, negative ORPM: -1.81.

Prediction Time

According to Vegas, the Celtics are two-point favorites in Minneapolis tonight. The Celtics present, like Memphis on Saturday, a great defensive team. Last season, the Celtics were tied for fourth in the NBA in defensive rating. With Horford and Crowder back, it can be expected that the Celtics defensive juggernaut will be back in full effect.

If the Wolves can forget the 71-point performance against the Grizzlies Saturday and regain heat from deep, they have a chance of upending one of the better Eastern Conference teams.

Prediction: Boston 101 Wolves 100

Let’s talk about turkey and the Wolves. And feel free to obliterate my 2014 Draft Class Rankings.