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Wolves look to find groove against Jazz

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A win to start the week is just what the Wolves need.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

All of these recent poster slams and the Wolves’ matchup with the Utah Jazz tonight has me reminiscing back to Andrew Wiggins’ rookie season.

It was the first real poster slam we had seen from Air Canada – and it was against 7’1” shot-blocking extraordinaire Rudy Gobert. It was also the first time Wiggins showed any real emotion in a basketball game before.

Fast-forward to a year later in another Minnesota-Utah battle at Target Center. Ricky Rubio had just swiped a pass from the Jazz and Wiggins came streaking into the frontcourt as Rubio fed him with a pinpoint chest pass at the top of the key.

Wiggins caught the pass and had a lane to the basket with one man standing in his way – Rudy Gobert. The former Jayhawk didn’t hesitate in the slightest before rising up in an attempt for another thunderous poster slam.

Gobert, experiencing heavy déjà vu, decided against trying to stop Wiggins’ unleashed momentum to the hoop this time around.

“Nah, fam, I’ve seen this before. I’ll sit this one out,” Gobert thought, probably.

The fan in me really wants Wiggins and Gobert to go at it one more time. One of the league’s premier shot blockers in Gobert (2.5 blocks per game) against one of the best dunk artists in the game today in Wiggins. ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?

But I will concede that there is more on the line tonight than spectacular dunks. The Wolves, coming off a loss at Oracle Arena in a game that went far better than I expected, are reeling at 5-11 through what was supposed to be the easier portion of their schedule. Instead of competing like a potential 8-seed in the Western Conference playoffs, these Wolves look identical to the Wolves of the past 12 years.

Oh, and the third quarter is still an issue.

On the bright side, at least the -32.0 net rating is better than the -37.9 mark the Wolves had two weeks ago, right? Progress.

Speaking of the bright side, the Wolves also rank 12th in the NBA in offensive rating (105.1) and 14th in overall net rating (-0.3). These numbers suggest that, at some point, Minnesota’s on-court product should turn into more consistent wins soon.

The Wolves’ opposition for a win tonight is the current Western Conference seventh seed, Utah. The Jazz are coming off a strong defensive performance by holding the Atlanta Hawks to just 68 points and 31 percent shooting.

Forever-underrated point guard George Hill has led Utah in scoring, amassing 20.9 points per game on over 55 percent shooting in nine starts. Hill’s 12.0 net rating leads the Jazz and is 19th in the NBA among players who have recorded more than 20 minutes per game. Gordon Hayward is also eclipsing 20 points per game at 20.3 to go with 7.3 rebounds and a 41.5 percent shooting clip.

Former Duke Blue Devil Rodney Hood has proven to be a budding star, averaging 16.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game on over 44 percent shooting while usually matching up with the opposition’s top perimeter scorer on a nightly basis.

And of course, Gobert is the man in the middle for the Jazz. He is the only player who has started all 17 games for Utah and has still managed the team’s second-best net rating at 10.5.

The Wolves have received the majority of the national media hype as the next great team in the NBA, but the Jazz are basically that team already. Earning a win over this Utah team is no easy task, but Minnesota is nearly in a do-or-die situation if playoffs are still in the planner.

Expected Starting Lineups

Minnesota Timberwolves

PG – Ricky Rubio

SG – Zach LaVine

SF – Andrew Wiggins

PF – Gorgui Dieng

C – Karl-Anthony Towns

Injuries: Nikola Pekovic is OUT (ankle).

Utah Jazz

PG – George Hill

SG – Rodney Hood

SF – Gordon Hayward

PF – Boris Diaw

C – Rudy Gobert

Injuries: Derrick Favors is OUT (knee). Alec Burks is OUT (ankle).

Let’s take a look at how the Wolves stack up with the Jazz using the four factors (eFG%, FTA%, TOV% and OREB%). The four factors are an excellent indicator of team performance.

FOUR FACTORS

Factor / Wolves / Jazz

eFG% / 49.9 / 50.9

FTA% / .308 / .277

TOV% / 15.2 / 13.7

OREB% / 26.7 / 19.7

Despite the 5-11 record, the Wolves actually rank in the Top 5 in both FTA% (3rd) and OREB% (4th). It’s clear that for the Wolves, second half lapses are the main culprit in most of their losses.

I’m feeling oddly optimistic about the Wolves after their last two outings. I know the first rule of being a fan of any Minnesota team is to never get your hopes up, but I’m going to just this once.

Final Prediction: Wolves 106, Jazz 104