Jazz at Wolves
7:00 pm CST
Well, friends, it’s that time of year once again.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are tied for the worst record in the Western Conference.
Another sloppy defensive effort last night in the nation’s capital, as recapped by David here, led to Minnesota’s 25th loss of the season and free-fall into the cellar of the Western Conference with the Dallas Mavericks at 11-25.
Maybe now is not the time for optimism, I don’t know. But I’m going to give it a try, because there are a few things still working in Minnesota’s favor to hold on to.
Despite being last in the West, the Wolves are still only four games back from the eighth seed. The bottom half of the Western Conference is an absolute train wreck, and if the Wolves can figure out a few things (very, very big ‘if’) they can still put themselves in the playoff race.
Speaking of the Mavericks, the Wolves will see them twice in their next five games. Of course, the Wolves have shown us time and time again that they know how to lose to bad teams. But hey, optimism, right?
And as it pertains to tonight’s game at Target Center against Utah, the Wolves are 4-2 this season on the back end of a back-to-back this season. Of those four wins, three have been by double digits (@ Magic, vs. Lakers, vs. Hawks).
Additionally, George Hill, one of the league’s most efficient point guards, is still in concussion protocol and will not play for the Jazz tonight. Shelvin Mack has been the man filling in for Hill, and that should be a positive change from John Wall last night in Washington.
Utah ranks third in the NBA with a defensive rating of 101.9, just behind Memphis and San Antonio. The Jazz also surrender a field goal percentage of just 43.1 percent, which is the lowest in the league. With 7’1” Rudy Gobert anchoring the paint and averaging 2.6 blocks per game and altering countless other shots per game, it’s not difficult to see why Utah’s defensive ranks favorably.
It might be wise to pull Gobert away from the paint if at all possible. We haven’t been exactly comfortable with Towns’ tendency to float around the perimeter this season, but if Gobert is matched up with him it wouldn’t be the worst idea tonight.
Another note I took watching the Jazz — Gobert sets a TON of screens. Getting through screens is always critical, but it will be even more so considering how much humanity Gobert is and how often he picks. Utah plays at the slowest pace in the league, and they like to begin a lot of their sets with high screens from Gobert.
Here are a few examples from their loss in Toronto on Thursday.
Dodging screens is something Kris Dunn does much better than Ricky Rubio. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Dunn in the game late tonight because of his ability to fight through screens. Of course, fighting through screens won’t be important only for the point guard position.
Should Minnesota ICE these ball screens, especially on the wing, Utah’s wing duo in Rodney Hood and Gordon Hayward love the pull-up jumper and would be glad to pull the trigger on a semi-open 18-footer.
Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins will match up Hood and Hayward. Both are long, athletic players that can get it done on both ends. Hayward is Utah’s leading scorer at 22.2 points per game on 45.5 percent shooting, while Hood isn’t far behind at 14.0 on 41.4 percent.
One more point: Utah is fourth in the Western Conference for a reason — it gets opposing teams to play its game. Low-scoring, slow-paced games is what the Jazz want. If the Wolves are able to get out in transition and speed up the game, it could throw Utah off enough to make this thing interesting.
Expected Starting Lineups
PG - Ricky Rubio
SG - Zach LaVine
SF - Andrew Wiggins
PF - Gorgui Dieng
C - Karl-Anthony Towns
Shelvin Mack George Hill
SG - Rodney Hood
SF - Gordon Hayward
PF - Derrick Favors
C - Rudy Gobert
Timberwolves: Shabazz Muhammad is questionable with an illness.
Jazz: George Hill is out with a concussion.
As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Jazz 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 / Jazz
eFG% / 50.2 / 52.8
TOV% / 15.0 / 14.8
ORB% / 27.8 / 21.6
FTR / .283 / .294
Minnesota still ranks third in the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage, just behind Chicago and Denver. However, that is the only advantage the Wolves hold in the four factors for tonight’s clash. Utah ranks fifth in eFG% to Minnesota’s 18th, while the Jazz narrowly beat out the Wolves in TOV% and FTR.
The Wolves are reeling, certainly. And this weird trend they’ve set of playing well on the second night of a back-to-back is probably just an outlier. But hey, I’m going to ride that trend. Wolves get a much-needed win.
Prediction: Wolves 104, Jazz 97
If you go say hi to our friends over at SLC Dunk, please be excellent.
UPDATE: George Hill will be available tonight.