Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (11-24) vs. Washington Wizards (16-18)
Where: Verizon Center — Washington, D.C.
When: 6:00 pm CST (TV coverage on Fox Sports North)
Why: Both teams are in desperate need of their first victory in 2017.
It’s been an up and down week for the Wolves, as they started the new year off by failing to reach 100 points against the worst defensive team in the league (Portland), and followed up that feat with an uninspiring 3.5 quarters against the NBA’s second worst team (Philadelphia), only to see a late game-tying Rubio three-pointer get one-upped by a brilliant last second play design from the Sixers Brett Brown:
A crazy finish in Philadelphia.. Rubio ties it up with 1.6 left... before Robert Covington catches it off the inbounds for the @Sixers win! pic.twitter.com/vkbIy6heNJ— NBA (@NBA) January 4, 2017
How does one exactly recover from a buzzer-beating loss against a lowly opponent? Head to the White House! The players posted a collection of photos and videos on their various social media accounts, but this one from Cole Aldrich was hands down the best:
As for the on-court product, it’s pretty discouraging right now. The young Wolves have started 2017 off by overlooking opponents, taking bad shots, and just generally giving less than full effort at all times. While the overall “Wolves Worry-Meter” is still relatively low, the lack of effort and prolonged stretches of bad shot selection and overall decision making is very concerning. It’s a classic case of “glass half full vs. glass half empty” right now and no two tweets sum up the current state of the Wolves better than these from some of the best in the biz:
Close your eyes @mardyfish: The Wolves have taken a double-digit lead in 20 of 34 games this season. But they're only 9-11 in those 20 games— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) January 2, 2017
Building double digit leads isn't easy. When these young @timberwolves players learn how to close out games they will be dangerous. pic.twitter.com/7ZnbzKecYj— Jim Petersen (@JimPeteHoops) January 2, 2017
On the other side of the court, the Wizards from Washington continue to struggle themselves under their new head coach Scott Brooks. At 16-18, the Wizards find themselves jumbled in a cluttered eastern conference, where six games separate the three seed from the twelve seed. The Wizards key offseason acquisition, Ian Mahinmi (4 years/$64 million dollars) has played 14 minutes this season as he attempts to recover from a partially torn meniscus in his left knee.
Two bright spots for the Wizards so far have been the play of both John Wall and Otto Porter. Under Brooks, Wall is averaging career highs in FGA (18.3), FG% (46.5%), FTA (6.4), FT% (82%), points (23.5) and steals (2.3). Brooks has translated his seven years of experience coaching Russell Westbrook to seamlessly get the best out of another uber-athletic PG in John Wall.
The other bright spot for the Wizards is the swingman from Georgetown University. Otto Porter, Jr. is having himself a career year as well, averaging career highs across the board, including points (14.1), rebounds (6.6), steals (1.6), blocks (.6), FG% (53.8%), and 3P% (43%). For a player who will become a restricted free agent this summer, it is definitely a great time to be Otto Porter, Jr.
“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 - John Wall
SG - Bradley Beal
SF - Otto Porter, Jr.
PF - Markieff Morris
C - Marcin Gortat
Timberwolves: Nikola Pekovic (ankle) is OUT.
Wizards: Ian Mahinmi (knee) is OUT.
As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Wizards 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 / Wizards
eFG% / 50.1% / 51.4%
TOV% / 15.1 / 14.5
ORB% / 27.8% / 23.7%
FTR / .286 / .253
Both teams fall in the middle of the pack in eFG%, TOV%, and FTR across the NBA, but the Wolves continue to be near the top in ORB% (currently third) while the Wizards are fourteenth. In terms of TOV%, both the Wolves and Wizards find themselves in the bottom third of the league. More specifically, John Wall is third in the league in TOV% (4.5), only behind James Harden (5.7) and Russell Westbrook (5.3). Conversely, the Wolves highest ranked player in TOV% is Karl-Anthony Towns at seventeenth (2.6).
Advanced stats aside, tonight’s matchup is simple: which underperforming team wants it more (cliche, I know). The Wolves have sputtered in consecutive contests against non-playoff teams (Portland and Philadelphia), highlighted by low energy and poor shot selection. Let’s hope the Wolves found some well-needed inspiration in the Oval Office on Wednesday.
PREDICTION: Wolves 105, Wizards 99