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Game Thread #7: Wolves at Magic

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Last season, the Wolves were 1-8 in back-to-back games. They look to ditch that trend in Orlando tonight.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Minnesota Timberwolves Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

What: Minnesota Timberwolves (1-5) at Orlando Magic (3-4)

Where: Amway Center - Orlando, FL

When: 6:00 PM CST (TV coverage on FS North)

Everything seemed so different thirteen days ago...for the Minnesota Timberwolves. On October 26th, 2016 they kicked off the season against the Memphis Grizzlies. Exactly four minutes and forty-two seconds into the season, Karl-Anthony Towns drove the lane only to be impeded by the 2015 Defensive Player of the Year, Marc Gasol. Towns correctly kicked the ball to Gorgui Dieng, and Dieng extends the seemingly insurmountable Wolves lead to 20-3.

In that moment, if you would have told me what we now know—that this team could not find an offensive flow or effectively defend—I would just not understand.

That is in fact where the Wolves stand six games and only one win into the season. For the Wolves, who are on a road back-to-back, tonight brings on the 3-4 Orlando Magic.

Last season in back-to-back games, the Wolves went 1-8. It’s fair to say that last year’s team probably would have lost the game tonight. And thus an opportunity presents itself this evening. An opportunity to say, despite the record through the first six games, that this team is different. There is no reason the 2016-17 Wolves should be of the same caliber of last year’s team. It is fairly indisputable that the roster has improved and so too has the coaching.

There is a reason for optimism, tonight’s opponent, the Orlando Magic, aren’t very good at basketball. The worst team in the league via net rating is, of course, the reigning king of futility — The Philadelphia 76ers (-15.4). The second worst team in the league is the Orlando Magic at -9.9. Last season only the 76ers and Lakers had net ratings of -10 or worse, and they won a combined 27 games.

Despite losing 83.3% of their games thus far this season the Wolves, comparatively, sport a positive net rating of +1.6. Eliminating the now belabored point of the Wolves atrocious third quarter performance (-33.2 net rating), the Wolves actually look like a legitimate NBA team.

The Wolves Do Not Make Sense

  1. Wolves Net Rating by Quarter:

1st: +22.3 (2nd in the NBA)

2nd: +10.9 (5th in the NBA)

3rd: -33.2 (30th in the NBA)

4th: +5.8 (11th in the NBA)

It isn’t only on a macro scale that the Wolves performance has been perplexing, but also in the smaller facets of the game.

2. Andrew Wiggins made 6 of his 7 three-point attempts last night, yet shot 2 of 14 at the rim.

Huh?

3. Last night Wiggins missed consecutive free throws at the end of the fourth quarter for the second time this season. After shooting 77.5% from the free throw line last season, Wiggins is shooting 61.5% from the line in the fourth quarter this season.

4. If you are think the Wolves are missing shots near the basket at a higher rate you would be correct. Last year the Wolves were one of the best at converting from within 5-feet of the hoop (62%). This season they are third worst in the league (52.6%). This keeps happening...

Expected Starting Lineups

Timberwolves

PG - Kris Dunn

SG - Zach LaVine

SF - Andrew Wiggins

PF - Gorgui Dieng

C - Karl-Anthony Towns

Magic

PG - Elfrid Payton

SG - Evan Fournier

SF - Aaron Gordon

PF - Serge Ibaka

C - Nikola Vucevic

Injuries

Minnesota: Ricky Rubio (Out — sprained elbow)

Four Factors

Let’s take a quick peek at how the Wolves and Magic match up using the Four Factors. As a quick refresher, the Four Factors are effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TOV%), offensive rebounding percentage (ORB%), and free throw rate (FTR).

Factor / Wolves / Magic

eFG% / 49.8% / 45.6%

TOV% / 16.3 / 13.2

ORB% / 29.9% / 25.0%

FTR / .331 / .229

I mentioned before, the Magic are bad. This only extends the point, their eFG% is the worst in the league and are one of the worst teams at getting to the free throw line this season. Those same categories have, arguably, been the Wolves biggest strengths.

My biggest concern would be that the Magic are another “big” opponent. Vucevic has defensive shortcomings, but much like Marc Gasol and Brook Lopez gave the Wolves problems in the paint this could again be an issue. Dieng and Towns need to be better at avoiding foul trouble tonight as the Magic will again look to attack the interior.

Even at the beginning of the season back-to-backs are difficult, but this game should not just be penciled in as an “L”. Vegas gives the Magic a 57.4% chance of winning. I’m abstaining from a prediction because I do not understand the Wolves.

The game thread is open. Be kind to one another.