This year the Minnesota Timberwolves are doing something that they have not done in over a decade, play winning basketball. At 22-14, this team is on pace to win a hair over 50 games. The last time a Wolves team won over 50 games was the 2003-2004 season.
The aesthetics of this team may not be what we imagined at the outset of the season, but the results are there.
The Wolves are rounding out the year with a rematch against the Indiana Pacers, hoping to put forth a much better effort than the disastrous game early in the season when we saw an inkling of how much this team needs Jimmy Butler. The Pacers, while thought to be a non-competitive team at the time, demolished the Wolves in that game 130 to 107.
However, while the Wolves were without Butler in that early game, the Pacers look to be without their star, Victor Oladipo, tonight as he has missed the last two games due to right knee soreness.
The Pacers are coming into this game having dropped three straight, the last loss being against the recent world beaters, the Chicago Bulls.
But the Pacers are good at making threes, 2nd in the league in three-point percentage, even though they are only 23rd in the NBA in three-point attempts per game. They play at the 13th fastest pace, but are third in the NBA in fast break points per game.
Three-point and transition defense have been two killers for the Wolves this year and this Pacers team, even without Oladipo, represents another test to evaluate this defense’s improvement throughout the year.
The two big matchups to watch tonight will be Karl-Anthony Towns and Myles Turner, as both are supposed NBA “unicorns,” although Turner has gotten less fanfare this year as compared to Towns, Embiid, and Porzingis. Turner is still averaging a solid 14.6 points per game while trying to anchor the defense.
Darren Collison and Tyus Jones will also be going head-to-head and we will get to see tonight if having Jones out there as a starter really does improve the Wolves ability to handle a team that pushes the pace.
The other problem for the Wolves is that the Pacers really like to play small. They will use Domantas Sabonis as a backup center and space the floor around him with a bunch of shooters. In the last few games, we have seen Thibs more willing to use the Wolves small-ball lineups with Jamal Crawford, Andrew Wiggins, and Jimmy Butler playing the 2-4 spots and it is likely we will see the Wolves try out some combination of that group tonight.
Hopefully the Wolves will be able to pull out the last win of 2017 and embark upon the new year with some momentum.
Projected Starting Lineups
Prediction - Wolves 108 - Pacers 101. The Pacers are just not the same team without Oladipo, but they will likely give the Wolves a scare before the game is out.