Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (17-28) vs. Indiana Pacers (22-22)
Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, Minnesota
When: 7:00 pm CST (TV coverage on Fox Sports North)
Why: The Wolves are in search of their first four-game winning streak since December 15th, 2012. Yes, it’s been over FOUR CALENDAR YEARS since the Wolves last strung together four straight victories.
The Wolves return home tonight to begin a three-game home stand after a quick, one-game road-trip to the desert that included a Cole Aldrich poster, a Karl-Anthony Towns block party, and Maple Jordan doing this:
ANDREW WIGGINS pic.twitter.com/F7wIh8uhK4— Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) January 25, 2017
With all due respect to Dave Benz and Alan Horton (both of whom had fantastic calls of the last-second shot), the pettiness in me absolutely adores listening to the Suns broadcast team deflate like punctured balloons as Wiggins hit the game-winner. (FWIW, the NBA’s L2M Report on Wednesday indicated that 1) Towns DID foul Tucker and 2) Tucker DID NOT foul Wiggins on the game-winning shot. Riiiiiiight.) For more highlights of Tuesday’s thriller, be sure to check out this masterfully done game recap from my guy Chris Riazi.
One last point before we move onto tonight’s opponent: on behalf of the entire Canis team, I’d like to give a major standing ovation to Ricard ‘Ricky’ Rubio. Over the span of seven days, Rubio endured additional trade rumors, injured his hip, lost his grandmother, flew to Spain for a funeral, and returned after missing only one game to post 14 points and 10 assists while simultaneously reminding everyone who is the best PG on the roster. At 26-years old, I could barely balance my first professional job while also buying groceries and trying to hit the gym, so for Rubio to handle everything the way he has and yet still demonstrate elite-level PG play is really something. Hats off to you, Spanish Unicorn.
As for the Pacers, they come into tonight as losers of their last three games, including games against the Lakers and Knicks. In an attempt to increase the pace and tempo of the offense, Indiana’s favorite son Larry Bird replaced Frank Vogel with Nate McMillan this summer; however, the results to this point have been mixed. The Pacers are ninth in pace this year (99.97), up from tenth last year (98.99). Their points per game (105.4) and offensive rating (104.5) are both up this season as well, but they have also seen their defensive rating drop from 100.2 last season to 105.7 this season.
In addition to Nate McMillan, the Pacers other key off-season move was a three-team trade that essentially replaced George Hill with Jeff Teague. At only 28-years old, Teague’s speed and playmaking ability fit Bird’s vision for a more uptempo, modern offense. Through 44 games, Teague is averaging a career-best in assists (8.0 per game) while also pouring in 15.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, and a career-best 5.3 FT attempts.
The other Pacers player to watch tonight will be man child Myles Turner. In his second year as a pro, Turner is averaging career bests in practically any and every category, including points (15.7), rebounds (7.6), blocks (2.3), three-point percentage (40%), and free-throw percentage (80.7%). While young, sizable humans like Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, and Kristaps Porzingis continue to stretch the limits of physics, the 6’11” kid out of Bedford, Texas seems to be getting lost in the discussion of franchise-changing big men. At only 20-years of age, the window to buy cheap Myles Turner stock already seems to be closing.
“And now, your starting lineups...”
Expected Starting Lineups
PG - Ricky Rubio
SG - Zach LaVine
SF - Andrew Wiggins
PF - Gorgui Dieng
C - Karl-Anthony Towns
PG - Jeff Teague
SG - C.J. Miles
SF - Paul George
PF - Thaddeus Young
C - Myles Turner
Timberwolves: Nikola Pekovic (ankle) is OUT.
Pacers: Aaron Brooks (knee) and Monta Ellis (ankle) are PROBABLE. Rodney Stuckey (hamstring) is OUT.
As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Pacers 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 / Pacers
eFG% / 50.8% / 51.1%
TOV% / 15.3 / 14.2
ORB% / 27.4% / 19.7%
FTR / .284 / .266
Both teams rank in the top half of the league in terms of eFG%, while the Wolves rank 27th in TOV% and the Pacers rank 27th in ORB%. Moreover, the Wolves come into the night averaging 14.9 turnovers per game, while the Pacers currently sit third in the league in steals (8.7). Additionally, the Wolves rank third in ORB%, while the Pacers rank 27th in overall rebounding.
It will be a classic battle of strengths vs. weaknesses tonight as the Pacers look to end a three-game losing streak while the Wolves themselves look to build upon a successful last week of professional hoops. With expectations slowly beginning to build, let’s see how the young Wolves respond to Tuesday’s buzzer-beating victory.
Prediction: Wolves 107, Pacers 101