Jazz at Wolves
7:00 pm CDT
The Wolves face a similarly situated opponent for the second game in a row tonight at Target Center: A team in desperate need of wins as they fight for the playoffs. Last night the Wolves dealt a huge blow to the Wizards' playoff hopes, and tonight they will look to do the same to a Jazz team that is currently tied for 8th in the Western Conference with the Dallas Mavericks, a half game behind the Rockets in 7th and a game and half behind the Blazers in 6th. It's a real scrum for those final spots in the West, and the Jazz are completing a five game road trip in Minneapolis tonight, the first four of which they have split.
Of course the Wolves have an even more difficult schedule situation tonight coming off last night's double overtime game in Washington and flying back home with another game awaiting them. Among the starters, only Gorgui Dieng played less than 40 minutes last night, and Dieng just missed that mark by six seconds, so finding the energy and legs for 48 minutes is going to be key for the Wolves against a Jazz team that badly needs tonight's game.
With a fully rested Wolves team, this game would likely be a battle of pace, with the Jazz featuring the slowest pace in the league and the Wolves playing much faster since installing the current starting lineup. I still think the Wolves will have to push and get something in transition if they want to win tonight, the question is whether they will have the energy to do so.
The Jazz, despite sitting at 35-37 have actually outscored their opponents and have a Pythagorean record of 39-33. They have the 10th ranked defense and 15th ranked offense in the league, much of which is driven by their excellent rebounding (top ten in rebounding percentage at both ends of the floor), and particularly defensively with their rim protection led by Rudy Gobert. This should be a terrific match up of front courts, with Gobert and Derrick Favors against Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns. The Wolves' ability to keep up with the agile Favors will be a big factor tonight, thought fortunately he is not a "stretch" guy and doesn't do a lot of perimeter shooting.
Another fun match up will be Andrew Wiggins against Gordon Hayward at the small forward position. Hayward is a talented and diverse offensive player who can shoot it from deep as well as create off the dribble and get to the free throw line. He also averages nearly four assists per game, so keeping him from penetrating while also not giving him clean looks from the arc will be a major task.
This is the third of four meetings between the teams (they meet again in Salt Lake City next week). They split the first two with the Wolves winning at home in late December behind one of their more successful defensive performances of the season, as they held the Jazz to 35% from the field and won 94-80. A month later, the Jazz shot 52% in a 103-90 win in Utah. The starting lineups and available personnel have changed for both teams since those meetings, with the Wolves scoring in bunches since the All-star break and the Jazz holding seven of their last eight opponents under 100.
One could forgive the Wolves for struggling tonight given the circumstances, but they have surprised us before and hopefully have the energy to give a good effort.
Our blogging buddies tonight are over at SLC Dunk. Be excellent.
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