Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (6-14) vs. San Antonio Spurs (17-4)
Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, Minnesota
When: 7:00pm CST (TV coverage on NBATV) — sorry, fellow League Passers
Why: The Wolves look to hand the Spurs their first road loss of the season (currently 12-0).
The Wolves are back home tonight, coming off an east coast weekend road trip that saw them lose a tough one in Madison Square Garden on Friday, only to then pull out an improbable 4th quarter comeback just 24 hours later against the Charlotte Hornets. Our friends over at the Timberwolves Entertainment Network put together an all-access video from the weekend that you’ll definitely want to check out.
We went on the road to the east coast where we saw an incredible matchup with the Wolves & Hornets - Here's an ALL ACCESS look on the trip! pic.twitter.com/KfKpH4PKtu— Timberwolves T.E.N. (@Wolves_TEN) December 5, 2016
The Wolves are currently in a tough stretch of their schedule, with their next six opponents a combined 43 games over .500. While there is never a right or desirable time to play the Spurs, the Wolves are getting a San Antonio team facing the second night of a back-to-back after grinding out a tough win in Milwaukee last night against the Bucks. With four games in six nights for the Spurs, it’ll be interesting (as it always is) to see who Greg Popovic decides to suit up.
Tonight’s matchup will mark the first time since 1997 that the Spurs will not have Tim Duncan roaming the paint and banking in midrange jumpers at Target Center. With that said, the cupboards aren't necessarily bare in San Antonio. The Spurs still employ a certain Kawhi Leonard who is balling out of control, averaging career highs in points, assists, FT% and three-pointers made per game. His usage rate (31.3) is ahead of guys like John Wall, Damian Lillard, and LeBron James. Add in his efficiency (45.0 FG% and 91.1 FT%), low turnover rate (1.9 per game), and his stoic personality, and you have all the makings of a real, live version of a basketball robot.
In addition to Kawhi, the Spurs also bring Pau Gasol to town, their prized free agent signing from this summer’s spending extravaganza. The Wolves were rumored to be very interested in the Spanish center before he finally signed a 2-year/$32 million dollar contract with the Spurs. Whether it be age, adjusting to a new system, or a combination of both, the Spurs/Gasol relationship hasn't statistically worked as many may have thought. The 36-year old big man is currently averaging career lows in minutes per game (26.1), points (11.4), and FT% (59.1%). While the drop-off in production from his time in Chicago and Los Angeles are clearly evident, the Spurs seem more than content monitoring the Spaniard’s minutes and preserving him for another (expected) long playoff run.
Finally, in addition to Pau Gasol, the Spurs did add a few other notable new faces to the fray over the summer, including David Lee (previously with the Dallas Mavericks), Dewayne Dedmon (previously with the Orlando Magic), and drafted highflying athletic super freak Dejounte Murray out of the University of Washington. On the second night of a back-to-back, Wolves fans may get way more Lee and Dedmon minutes than they originally had planned (or wanted). As for Murray, he is currently assigned to the Austin Spurs (the San Antonio D-League affiliate), but don’t be surprised if one day soon the 20-year old out of Seattle, Washington is the new franchise running mate next to Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.
“And now, your starting lineups...”
Expected Starting Lineups
PG - Ricky Rubio
SG - Zach LaVine
SF - Andrew Wiggins
PF - Gorgui Dieng
C - Karl-Anthony Towns
San Antonio Spurs*
PG - Nicolas Laprovittola
SG - Danny Green
SF - Kawhi Leonard
PF - LaMarcus Aldridge
C - Pau Gasol
* = Popovich rules apply.
Timberwolves: Brandon Rush (toe) is QUESTIONABLE. Nikola Pekovic (ankle) is OUT.
Spurs: Tony Parker (knee) is OUT.
As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Spurs match up using the Four Factors. Reminder, the Four Factors are effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TOV%), offensive rebounding percentage (ORB%), and free throw rate (FTR).
Factor / Wolves / Spurs
eFG% / 49.9% / 51.4%
TOV% / 14.9 / 13.6
ORB% / 27.1% / 22.3%
FTR / .309 / .295
Brace yourself for what I’m about to say: the San Antonio Spurs are still really, really good at playing basketball. The Spurs are currently top 10 in eFG%, TOV%, and FTR, and post the fifth highest net rating (5.5) in the league. Additionally, the Spurs are the fourth best team in the league at limiting opponent points in the paint (39.8) and are fifth in terms of opponents 2nd chance points per game (11.9). Conversely, the Wolves currently sit third in the league in both FTR and ORB%, and are tenth in percentage of points scored in the paint. Something has to give!
Despite everything you have just read (including the 12-0 road record, ALL of those advanced statistics, and a sprinkling of Kawhi Leonard’s MVP caliber season thus far), there is NO room in my previews for anything but optimism. Yes, it’s the Spurs. Yes, the Wolves have displayed massive growing pains so far this season. BUT, in the opinion of this committee of one, the Wolves are set to parlay some home cooking with the momentum from Saturday’s comeback win against Charlotte to string together their first 2-game winning streak of the season (yes, you read that correctly).
PREDICTION: Wolves 103, Spurs 95
For coverage of tonight’s home game, be sure to follow @thedailywolf who will be live-tweeting the game from Target Center. Additionally, go ahead and follow @canishoopus and @poundingtherock (our friends over at SBNation San Antonio) for in-game commentary and updates.
The game thread is open. Let’s chat.