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Game #53 Preview: “We The North” vs. “We The (More) North”

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The Wolves look to end their four-game losing streak as they welcome the Toronto Raptors to Target Center.

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest 2016 Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (19-33) vs. Toronto Raptors (32-21)

Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, Minnesota

When: 7:00 pm CST (TV coverage on Fox Sports North)

Why: The Drake’s and “We The North” travel more north to take on Lance Stephenson and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Yes, you read that right. The team formerly led by the young three-headed monster of Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, and Karl-Anthony Towns has been overrun. Despite frigid temperatures, the “Born Ready” tornado has blown through Minneapolis, Minnesota and is here to stay (well, at least for ten days or so).

Aside from the signing of Lance Stephenson, it’s been a very challenging and frustrating week so far for the Wolves. Over the weekend, it was announced that Zach LaVine would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. With only a few short hours to process the news, the Wolves began their six game home stand by falling flat on their face against the Marc Gasol-less Grizzlies. To make matters worse, the Wolves responded on Monday night by unleashing a three-point breathing dragon in Target Center in yet another disappointing loss to a lottery team (albeit a red-hot one). Finally, late last night, Timberwolves PR announced Adreian Payne would be out indefinitely:

While Payne has struggled to find consistent minutes under Thibs this season, low platelet count is no joke and on behalf of the Canis crew we wish Major Payne all the best and hope for a very speedy recovery.

So...where does that leave the Wolves now?

A week ago at this time, the Wolves were 2.5 games out of the potential 8-seed in the Western Conference and we’re set to embark on six straight home games. Fast forward to today, and the Wolves are now 4.5 games out of the playoff picture, are without their uber athletic SG for the remainder of the season, and face a steep uphill battle post All-Star break that includes sixteen of their remaining twenty-five games on the road.

While anything is possible, a season that began as a quest to end the franchise’s twelve year playoff drought may now officially shift towards a 29-game experiment that focuses on tinkering with creative lineups and overall player progress.

Speaking of player progress, no Wolves player has demonstrated more growth and development since the start of 2017 than Ricky Rubio. In his last fifteen games, Rubio is averaging 12.7 points on 42% shooting, dishing out 10.5 assists, and shooting 90.0% from the FT line on nearly five attempts per game. His assists per game during that span put him behind only John Wall, and ahead of guys like LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Shabazz Muhammad. With the Wolves facing a major decision this summer about their logjam at floor general, and another lottery trip on the horizon (a lottery that is EXTREMELY heavy with PG’s), Rubio’s recent run of elite play could not have come at a more opportune time.

As for tonight’s opponent, the Raptors come into the game as losers of eight of their last twelve games, including losses to the Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, and twice to the Orlando Magic. Currently third in the Eastern Conference standings, the Raptors find themselves only 2 games back of the Boston Celtics and 4.5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but also only 2 games ahead of the sixth place Indiana Pacers. The East is a lot messier than past years, and the Raptors recent struggles have positioned them in a much tougher battle for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

While Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan continue to play at All-Star levels (averaging a combined 51 points per game as well as 11 assists, 10 rebounds, and one unbreakable friendship), the Raptor to really watch tonight is Lucas Nogueira, also known as Bebe. You may remember Bebe from the 2013 NBA Draft when he unleashed a revolutionary way to rock a fitted cap. At only 24-years old, the 7-footer from Brazil has taken a few years to assimilate to the speed and physicality of the NBA; however, in his third full season with the Raptors, Bebe has established himself as an elite rim protector, ranking seventh in the NBA in blocks per game (1.8) despite playing only 21.5 minutes a night. With Jonas Valanciunas continuing to play at a high level, the Raptors have been overly cautious with overexerting Bebe thus far, but similar to his hair under that draft cap, there is just too much potential in Bebe to be held down under a (minutes) cap.

“And now, your starting lineups...”

Expected Starting Lineups

Minnesota Timberwolves
PG - Ricky Rubio
SG - Brandon Rush
SF - Andrew Wiggins
PF - Gorgui Dieng
C - Karl-Anthony Towns

Toronto Raptors
PG - Kyle Lowry
SG - DeMar DeRozan
SF - DeMarre Carroll
PF - Pascal Siakam
C - Jonas Valanciunas

Injuries

Timberwolves: Kris Dunn (wrist) is QUESTIONABLE. Zach LaVine (knee), Adreian Payne (illness), and Nikola Pekovic (ankle) are OUT.

Raptors: Patrick Patterson (knee) and Delon Wright (shoulder) are QUESTIONABLE.

Four Factors

As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Raptors 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 / Raptors

eFG% / 50.9% / 51.8%

TOV% / 14.9 / 12.4

ORB% / 27.0% / 25.0%

FTR / .282 / .298

Despite their recent struggles, the Raptors are an extremely talented and efficient team. The Raptors are currently tenth in eFG%, second in TOV%, and fourth in TOV%. Outside of their primary ball handlers, the Raptors have done a fantastic job of protecting the ball, with only one other player (aside from Lowry and DeRozan) averaging one or more turnovers (Jonas Valanciunas, 1.5). As for FTR, Lowry and DeRozan average a combined sixteen attempts per game, and shoot a combined 84% from the charity stripe.

With the Wolves desperate for a win despite their defense really struggling as of late, welcoming to town a team that is currently fifth in points per game (109.2), fifth in 3P% (37%), and third in FT% (80.8%) is less than ideal. For the Wolves to pull the upset tonight, they will have to bring their energy on defense and take care of the basketball if they want to be successful.

Prediction: Wolves 109, Raptors 106