Wolves (28-44) at Pacers (37-36)
7:00 CST, FS North
Banker’s Life Fieldhouse
The Wolves have been, to put it lightly, not good of late. After the best stretch of the year, with amazing wins against the Jazz, Clippers, and Warriors, the Wolves have lost six games in a row, which included a dispiriting loss against the lowly Los Angeles Lakers. The Wolves have simply looked tired and out of gas. It is possible that the three stalwarts of Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, and Karl-Anthony Towns are simply running out of gas, as we noted here earlier this week.
The Wolves are also pretty locked into their draft position, so it is not as if a late season tank job would really improve their draft stock. They are not going to catch the worst three teams of the Suns, Lakers, and Nets and will likely win more games than the Sixers or Magic. The Knicks are really the only team that they could flip-flop with, but essentially the Wolves are going to be in the 8-10 draft range (at least as the lottery odds are concerned).
While this may seem like the perfect time to try to stretch out Kris Dunn’s responsibilities to see what the rookie can handle, as well as pack it in a bit with Wiggins, Towns, and Rubio, that is not Thibs’ style. For all intents and purposes, today’s game is no different to Thibs’ than the victory over the Warriors nor the early season losses that began the season. This game simply represents the responsibility to do your job.
(Thibs would be an excellent orchestra conductor. I would watch that)
The Pacers, on the other hand, are fighting for their playoff lives. They currently hold the 7th seed in the East, but are tied with the Hawks and Bucks with the exact same record. The Heat lag two games behind at the 8th seed. The Pacers control their own destiny, at least for tonight, as the Bucks and Hawks are also playing this evening.
The Pacers are certainly a team that could put a scare into any contender, as playoffs Paul George is an offensive dynamo capable of willing his team to victory.
Not to mention, there is a lot on the line for Paul George right now. If he is able to make an All-NBA team, that would significantly impact his next contract, as well as the incentives from the Pacers to retain him.
In the previous game against the Pacers, the Wolves lost 109 to 103. Paul George utterly dominated the Timberwolves and his matchup against Andrew Wiggins. George finished with 32 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists in that game.
This is likely not a great matchup for the Wolves right now (although it is tough to imagine anyone is the way the team is playing). Paul George has been a problem for Wiggins on both ends of the court and Wiggins has not been playing well of late. Towns will have his work cut out for him against Myles Turner (assuming they matchup), as he will be forced to leave the paint to guard Turner all the way out on the perimeter. At least Jeff Teague won’t be able to punch Bjelica this game.
The wheels feel like they are coming off this Wolves team as the season draws to a close, which is certainly not uncommon nor unwarranted for a team in this position. The starters are being pushed to their limits and there just isn’t the support nor depth behind them to be able to see the team rallying back in any significant manner. The draft talk has begun.
While it is disappointing that we are once again in this familiar end-of-season despondence, it sure took a hell of a lot longer to get here than most Timberwolves seasons. I’m not sure if that is a real cause for celebration, but there was a real stretch of greatness in there. It’s just tough to imagine we will be seeing it again this season.
Wolves - Out: Nikola Pekovic, Zach LaVine, Nemanja Bjelica
Pacers - Out: Al Jefferson, Rodney Stuckey, Glenn Robinson III
As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Pacers 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 / Pacers
eFG% / 51.1% / 51.3%
TOV% / 14.6 / 14.0
ORB% / 27.2% / 20.7%
FTR / .282 / .263
Once again, this is the usual distribution that we have been seeing all year with the four factors and the Wolves. Not too much to report here.
Prediction: Pacers 112 - Wolves 102. The late-season slide continues.