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Wolves at Celtics Preview: Marching On

The Wolves begin a three-game road trip as they continue to fight for a potential playoff spot.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (28-38) vs. Boston Celtics (42-25)

Where: TD Garden — Boston, Massachusetts

When: 6:30 pm CST (TV coverage on Fox Sports North)

Why: It’s March, the Wolves are within striking distance of a potential playoff spot, and the Spanish Unicorn is (arguably) playing the best basketball of his career:

As many of you witnessed Monday night in the win against the Washington Wizards, and as my good pal John Meyer masterfully articulated yesterday, Ricard “Ricky” Rubio is officially back (and playing better than ever). Over his last thirty games, the 26-year-old PG out of El Masnou, Spain is averaging 12.8 points and 10.8 assists, helping the Wolves to a 17-13 record during that span.

Furthermore, since the All-Star break (which was around the same time that Rubio’s name was thrown around quite extensively in numerous trade rumors), Rubio leads the league in assists per game (11.6) and is pouring in 14.9 points on 50-percent eFG%, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.9 steals. The Wolves are 6-3 during that span, including wins against the Jazz, Clippers, Warriors, and Wizards (all playoff teams). Despite constantly being labeled as a “non-scorer” and “not a Thibodeau-style PG,” Rubio has silenced the doubters both on and off the court:

After tonight, the Wolves schedule eases up quite a bit, with seven of the next nine games against teams currently outside of the playoff picture. Meanwhile, the Denver Nuggets (whom the Wolves are chasing for the 8-spot), play five straight games against likely playoff teams starting this Thursday, including back-to-back games against the Houston Rockets. If the Wolves are going to make up any ground, it begins tonight in Boston.

As for the opponent in tonight’s matchup, the Celtics are 5-4 since the All-Star break, including an impressive 99-86 showing in Oracle Arena against the Warriors last Wednesday. The Celtics currently find themselves only 2.5 games behind the the first-place Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference, while simultaneously only a half-game ahead of the third place Wizards and three games ahead of the Raptors.

According to ESPN’s BPI Playoff Odds, while the Celtics chances at a playoff spot (>99.9%) are much greater than the Wolves (7.2%), the increased competition for home court advantage in the Eastern Conference has the Celtics facing constant must-win situations of their own. The Celtics do have some scheduling luck on their side, as ten of their remaining fifteen games are at home, including one last contest against the Cavaliers in early April. Conversely, the Cavs play at home only seven times during their final sixteen games, and the Wizards only six of their last sixteen.

Boston’s continued push for top status in the Eastern Conference has been led by Isaiah Thomas, the 5’9” PG out of Tacoma, Washington. Thomas is averaging a career-high 29.2 points this season, second behind only Russell Westbrook (31.9) in the race for the NBA scoring title. With 8.4 3PA’s and 8.6 FTA’s per game (both career highs as well), Thomas leads a team that is 8th in offensive rating (108.5) and seventh in true shooting percentage (56.6).

Facing premier players at the PG position has been a common theme for Rubio and the Wolves over the last week or so, and it’s no secret that Rubio has more than held his own:

Nevertheless, the Spanish Unicorn will have his hands full tonight trying to contain The Pizza Guy.

“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

Boston Celtics
PG - Isaiah Thomas
SG - Avery Bradley
SF - Jae Crowder
PF - Al Horford
C - Amir Johnson


Timberwolves: Zach LaVine (knee) and Nikola Pekovic (ankle) are OUT.

Celtics: None

Four Factors

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

eFG% / 51.1% / 52.4%

TOV% / 14.7 / 13.3

ORB% / 27.4% / 21.0%

FTR / .282 / .265

While the Celtics (10th) and Wolves (15th) both find themselves in the top half of the league in terms of eFG%, the big takeaway here is the disparity in ORB%. At 21.0%, the Celtics come in ranked 25th in the NBA in ORB%, while the Wolves (27.4%) currently rank 3rd. Moreover, the Celtics opponents ORB% (opponent’s offensive rebound rate) ranks 29th, only ahead of the New York Knicks. If the Wolves want to continue their push for a potential playoff spot, they will have to yet again demonstrate elite skill on the offensive glass.

Prediction: Wolves 108, Celtics 101