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Mavericks at Wolves: A Vital Stretch Begins

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The Wolves begin a very important five game home stand tonight against the Mavericks.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Mavericks at Timberwolves
6:00 pm CDT
FS North

After starting the season a disastrous 2-14 (including two losses to our Wolves,) the Dallas Mavericks have righted the ship somewhat, going 5-5 over their last ten. They have lost two in a row, though they were competitive on the road against both the Celtics and Bucks.

Rick Carlisle has figured out how to get a decent defensive performance out of his group, and they have moved up to middle of the pack in defensive rating. Despite having no spectacular individual rebounders, the Mavs are a very strong defensive rebounding team (6th in the league,) a lesson the Wolves could learn from. They attack the defensive glass as a group and don’t give up second opportunities. The battle on the Wolves’ offensive boards will be a key tonight, as the Wolves thrive on the offensive glass.

Perhaps to their detriment. As Zach Lowe pointed out in his most recent Ten Things, the Wolves are terrible in transition defense. As he demonstrates, much of the problem is players crashing the offensive glass or hanging around in the corner when a shot goes up, leaving them completely unbalanced. It’s been a problem all season, and something the Wolves need to correct.

It might not hurt them tonight because the Mavericks are not a running team. They are 25th in the league in fast break points per game, and 24th in pace. Their fastest player (rookie Dennis Smith Jr.) will miss tonight’s game with a hip injury. The Wolves need to take away easy open floor points, which leaves the Mavs with limited options to score. They have struggled badly on offense this season, relying on a relatively inefficient Harrison Barnes as their scoring fulcrum.

The Mavs also take the sixth most threes in the league, quite an accomplishment for a team that plays slow. The Wolves need to be aware of Wes Matthews, J.J. Barea, and of course Dirk Nowitzki on the perimeter. Denying those guys clean looks from the arc will be key for the Wolves tonight.

For the Wolves, it’s been up and down over the past couple of weeks. Coming of a win in Los Angeles against the Clippers, the Wolves have enjoyed three days off before kicking off a vital five game home stand this evening. It is essential they take advantage of this stretch of games against beatable teams. They cannot get complacent when looking at the schedule, they are nowhere near good enough to do that. While they are capable of beating anyone, as we’ve seen, they also are fully able to lose to anyone, and will do so if they don’t approach games with the right mindset. In large part, I’m looking for consistency in preparedness and effort this month.

It would be nice to see Karl-Anthony Towns dominate tonight. There is no reason the Mavs should be able to guard him, given their starting bigs are Nowitzki and rookie Maxi Kleber. Towns put 31 on the Mavs in the first match up, and could really use a big game tonight.

As usual, the things we will be watching are: Can the Wolves get enough stops to win? Against a poor Mavericks offense, they should be able to, but it’s always a question. Can the Wolves get production from the bench? They’ve had a few days off and everyone should be rested, but they have to get more minutes and good play from the reserves. Shabazz Muhammad has fallen out of the rotation, and it’s unclear when Nemanja Bjelica might be available. Tyus Jones and Gorgui Dieng have really been the only moderately useful bench players recently, and as it stands the Wolves are too thin.

Still, not taking care of the Mavs tonight would be hugely disappointing. They are rested and entering a stretch where they need to get some separation from the teams just below them in the conference standings.

What will you be watching for?

Expected Lineups

Mavericks

Yogi Ferrell
Wesley Matthews
Harrison Barnes
Maxi Kleber
Dirk Nowitzki

Wolves

Jeff Teague
Jimmy Butler
Andrew Wiggins
Taj Gibson
Karl-Anthony Towns

Our blogging buddies are over at Mavs Moneyball. Be excellent.