The Minnesota Timberwolves have had a slightly bumpy road over the last couple games. A tough loss to the Detroit Pistons was followed by a bad loss to the Charlotte Hornets. Both the Pistons and Hornets are fairly good teams, so it is not as if the Wolves were losing to the NBA cellar-dwellers, but the games were certainly winnable ones.
Tonight, the Wolves will hopefully find a slightly easier matchup in the Orlando Magic. The Magic sprinted out to a 6-2 record to start the season, which included victories over the Cleveland Cavaliers and the San Antonio Spurs, but the team has since lost five games straight.
Part of the reason for the hot start was simply due to unsustainable shooting from a few players, namely Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Vucevic, who were all lighting it up from beyond the arc. All three players still have a high three-point shooting percentage, but are on the path to returning to around their career averages.
Aaron Gordon looks like he has taken the next step, which is another successful example for of the Canis Hoopus Hive Mind’s prognosticating team. Gordon is finally being played at power forward full time, which is a move that many were requesting for years. He is now scoring 17.5 points per game with 8.1 rebounds per game, all while shooting above 50 percent from the floor. He is simply too fast for most power forwards and too strong for the small-ball fours. His advanced statistics, .162 WS/48 and 2.8 BPM, reveal a player that is well on the path to becoming an All-Star.
However, Gordon’s success has not necessarily propelled the Magic to a completely different level. This is still a team that many pegged to miss the playoffs, even in the weakened Eastern Conference. The Magic spacing issues from last year have been partially alleviated by Vucevic’s new three-point range, as he is now taking 4.4 threes per game compared to 1.0 per game last year.
The starting group for the Magic is rounded out with Evan Fournier, Elfrid Payton, and Terrence Ross. Jonathon Simmons is the first one off the bench and he has been having a strong first season for the Magic after signing there this past offseason.
The Wolves should be able to use this home game tonight to get back on track. The Magic are certainly not a pushover team, but they are one that this Minnesota team should beat. Over the last eight games, the Magic have the 24th ranked net rating in the league at -7.7.
Part of the Wolves recent problems has been the 4th quarter, which is a byproduct of an offense that, while ranked 7th in the league in offensive rating, can look anemic and sluggish at times. The Wolves 4th quarter net rating this year is -11.7, which is more than four points worse than the 29th ranked team in 4th quarter net rating.
William Bohl from A Wolf Among Wolves had a great breakdown today about how the Wolves, while improving their three-point shooting averages, have not been able to keep up with the rest of the NBA. You can check out the article here.
The Wolves simply have to be better. While they have been able to hold onto a positive record and are currently tied for the 4th best record in the West, it is hard to hold onto a strong playoff position with a negative net rating. The fundamentals show that the Wolves were beginning to become a positive team before the Pistons loss. It’s time to to get back on track.
Projected Starting Lineups
Prediction - Wolves 110 - Magic 95. The Wolves should matchup well with the Magic. Taj Gibson is one of the better options in the NBA to defend Aaron Gordon. Jimmy Butler should be able to feast on defense, as the Magic are quite turnover prone. This should be a bounce-back game for Towns, as he has had to deal with two tough players in Andre Drummond and Dwight Howard. Vucevic is probably going to get his on offense, but the lane should be open for Towns tonight.