Following a definitive loss to the Houston Rockets on Thursday night, the Wolves return to Target Center Saturday to host a formidable Toronto Raptors squad. This will be Minnesota’s second consecutive matchup with a team ranked second in their respective conference, marking the early stages of a tough schedule that the Wolves face through the end of January (including games at Portland, Golden State and Toronto).
The Wolves come in on a humbling two-game losing streak stained primarily by a loss at Orlando that served as somewhat of a reality check. Jimmy Butler summed that loss up nicely:
“We need to humble our damn selves. I’m glad we lost. Came in here on our high horse, thinking we’re a really good team and we haven’t done anything yet. Good for us man. They played better than us. They played harder than we did. They did everything right.”
A vet like Butler knows that, even after a strong five-game stretch of wins where the Wolves averaged a 17.8 point differential, they can’t get complacent and take games for granted in January. Those statements were punctuated on Thursday when the Wolves lost again to a short-handed Rockets team -- although this was also the return of James Harden.
This is not to say that the Wolves are not the team we thought they were. They’ve slipped up plenty of times this season only to follow it with resounding blowouts and strong win streaks.
Remember that horrible loss at home against Phoenix on Statement Saturday? The Wolves followed that up with a convincing five-game win streak. Or how about those back-to-back losses against Indiana and Detroit at the beginning of the season when it looked like Wolves Twitter might collapse on itself? That led to another five-game win streak.
This team can bounce back in surprising ways, and they’ve proved it time after time this season. But parts of this fanbase have a tendency to forget those high points coupled with a quick penchant to reach for the pitchforks when the Wolves lose a few games. I guess so many years of losing and rebuilding leads to a skeptic fanbase — and why not? Those habits won’t be assuaged until the Wolves make the playoffs again, and for good reason. But this team has proven itself in a lot of ways on both ends of the court over the course of their first 47 games, and they’ve earned however little faith Minnesota fandom has to offer.
In any case, Minnesota now faces the second-best team in the East before heading out on a three-game west coast road trip, which includes a back-to-back with Portland and Golden State. Even though Toronto has been on a quiet hot streak of their own, they’ve also been faced with some skepticism around the NBA because of their history to over-perform in the regular season and then lose steam in the playoffs.
Despite that, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are again making a good case for themselves as one of the best backcourts in the league. DeRozan is averaging 25 ppg and having a career year from beyond the arc, shooting 35 percent on three attempts per game. Meanwhile Lowry’s production is down a little bit this season, but he still commands a strong presence on the floor as a gritty defender and a bully on the glass.
The Wolves will have their hands full containing those two while making sure the likes of Serge Ibaka, CJ Miles or Jonas Valanciunas don’t catch them off guard in their own way. Let’s hope they can nip this losing streak in the bud before hitting the road.
Injuries: Fred VanVleet (questionable, right knee)