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Game Preview: Wolves v. Suns

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The Wolves have not met expectations thus far this season. A matchup against the Suns presents an opportunity to show the Wolves are not again a cellar dweller.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Minnesota Timberwolves Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Timberwolves (4-10) at Phoenix Suns (5-11)

8:00 pm CST

FSN North

Entering this season the Las Vegas Westgate Sportsbook had the Phoenix Suns pegged as the fourth-worst team in the NBA. Vegas’s prediction for the Suns was 29 wins this season. Currently, at 5-11 the Suns are on pace for 26 wins and therefore are right around expectations. That same sportsbook had the Wolves pegged at a 42.5 predicted wins. The Wolves are nowhere near those expectations.

Heading to Phoenix this evening the Wolves sit at 4-10. That is the third-worst record in the NBA and puts the team on a pace for 23 wins. It is fairly safe to assume the over is not coming to fruition this season as the Wolves would, now, need to finish the season 39-29.

With 83% of the season still in the balance, what are the Wolves expectations going forward?

Fivethirtyeight.com has the Wolves finishing the season at 35-47.

That is a tough pill to swallow. Another second-half of the season analyzing what lottery pick the Wolves will land and deciphering what type of player the Wolves should draft sounds also sorts of uncomfortable considering the expectation was at least being in the playoff hunt and in the conversation for the seven or eight seed in the West.

A Simple Plan for Getting Back in the Playoff Hunt

Step One: WIN — Particularly against the cellar dwellers of the league.

If the Wolves are as good as their initial expectations then they have definitively lost games where they played down to the level of their opponent. The games against Sacramento, Denver, Brooklyn, and New Orleans were all losses to teams with lower expectations than the Wolves entering the season. Win just those four games and the Wolves are 8-6.

Step Two: Eliminate the volatility of performance in the second half.

Plenty has been said about the third quarter woes for the Wolves. Right now the Wolves are the worst team in the NBA in the second half of games. In quarters three and four combined the Wolves have the worst Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating in the NBA .

If we delete the choke jobs against Charlotte, and Boston where in both cases the Wolves lost a single quarter by 19 points, and add that onto the 8-7 from step one, the Wolves could be 10-4.

It’s funny to say, but the Wolves win and loss columns could easily be swapped right now. Easily.

Step Three: Don’t freakin’ freak out.

This step is three-fold.

In line with the volatility of performance, the Wolves players need to keep their heads during the game.

In line with the Thanksgiving Day rumors, the Wolves Management need to not do anything rash. (I’m upset with myself for even acknowledging those rumors)

In line with the team’s overall performance, the Wolves fans need to accept that this volatility is something that comes with the territory of having your team’s three best players being 21 years-old.

Jumper - Third Eye Blind

Taking a few steps back from the ledge my friends, let’s take a look at tonight’s opponent the Phoenix Suns. Great news, the Suns are young and bad just like the Wolves!

Expected Lineups

Wolves

Ricky Rubio

Zach LaVine

Andrew Wiggins

Karl-Anthony Towns

Gorgui Dieng

Suns

Brandon Knight

Eric Bledsoe

Devin Booker

Marquesse Chriss

Alex Len

This was the Suns starting lineup against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, a game they won on the road 92-87. For a few different reasons, the Suns could put out a different starting lineup. The Suns have started nine different players this season. T.J. Warren has started every game he has played this season but sat out their last game with an injury.

Warren is questionable and would start in place of Knight if cleared to play. Without Warren, the Wolves have a huge size advantage. P.J. Tucker, a cagey defender, could stymie the size difference of Wiggins with a bit of strength.

Regardless of starting lineup, the Suns will likely implement the guess and check approach to slowing the Wolves offense. Look for rookies Dragan Bender and Marquesse Chriss both to draw a handful of minutes along with Jared Dudley, the player Alvin Gentry called, “the least athletic 4 in the history of the game.”

Dudley is the man.

This matchup presents a great opportunity for the Wolves to get back on track and implement Step One: Winning. The Suns are a cellar dweller and the type of team a perennial playoff team beats.

I’ll drop the wise thoughts on this matchup from one of our SB Nation friends @MikeLisboa who writes for BrightSideoftheSun.com here:

“Oodles of youth and athleticism on both squads should make this a fun — and a potentially ugly — one to watch. KAT’s guaranteed to make at least two plays that will make you question reality and Devin Booker is guaranteed to make at least two plays that will make you question whether or not you can build a franchise around him. Come for the exuberant optimism of youth. Stay for the dogged frustration of reality.”