This has not been the season that the Hornets imagined. The team was supposed to rebound after missing the playoffs last year with the addition of Dwight Howard. Unfortunately, various injuries to Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, and Jeremy Lamb have had the Hornets trying to work with a bunch of different lineups as they struggle to keep pace in a surprisingly competitive Eastern Conference.
The team has had to lean on Kemba Walker even more for offense and he has responded so far, averaging 23.5 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the field. Dwight Howard has even looked a bit like his old self and he is averaging 13.9 points and 12.5 rebounds per game.
However, the team has not been able to put it all together. A lot of that is due to the injuries and Batum is an important part of their team. Batum has recently returned and has three games under his belt.
The last time the two teams met up, the Wolves played one of their most complete games of the season and simply ground the Hornets down in a 112-92 victory. Unfortunately for the Hornets, even though they now have Batum back, Jimmy Buckets is also starting to catch fire. Butler had one of his strongest performances oin a Wolves uniform last night with 26 points on 10-15 shooting, 10 rebounds, 5 steals, and 4 assists. Butler is starting to hit his groove, which should be terrifying for the rest of the league.
The Wolves are going to have to ensure they do not come out flat tonight after a tough loss last night. They are traveling from Minneapolis to Charlotte on a back-to-back after a game where Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler, and Karl-Anthony Towns all played around 40 minutes.
After a more equitable minute distribution in the beginning of the season, Wiggins and Butler have crept up into the 7th and 8th most minutes per game in the NBA. This is not totally surprising, as the Wolves have almost no wing depth and Shabazz Muhammad, the only real backup wing, has not had a great season.
The important thing to watch tonight will be how the Wolves defend the 1-5 pick-and-roll. The team was killed in the fourth quarter by Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond as they were absolutely unable to get stops. Some of that was just tough shots going in, but the Wolves are the weakest defensively at point guard and center. Depending on the matchups, Tom Thibodeau may decide they easy answer is to simply put Butler on Walker.
However, that solution is not going to be a viable one against every team. The spread high pick-and-roll has become one of the most common offensive sets in the NBA for good reason, as it often begins the process of breaking down a defense by forcing the initial switch with a guard. This leaves the guard able to pull up for an open three or driving into the lane with the big man rim-running looking for a dunk. The Wolves, and Karl-Anthony Towns in particular, are simply going to have to get better at defending this type of action.
Tonight presents an important test. Playing on the road, after a tough loss, gives this team an opportunity to prove their mettle and fortitude. If they are able to bounce back tonight, it will help solidify this team as a real playoff contender, one that is able to rebound quickly.
Projected Starting Lineups
Marvin Williams (probable to play)
Prediction - Wolves 100 - Hornets 92. The Wolves, with a big lift from Jimmy Butler, hold a lead all game against the Hornets and close out this one.