Minnesota Timberwolves (31-20) host the Brooklyn Nets (18-31)
Coming off a two-game losing streak, the Wolves hope to pick up a home win against the Brooklyn Nets. The Wolves have just gone 2-3 against a murderer’s row of the Rockets, Clippers, Raptors, Blazers, and Warriors, likely all playoff teams. Jimmy Butler’s absence the last four games has been acutely felt. Without Butler, the Wolves defense has slipped (although they have been playing some of the best teams in the league) and over the four-game stretch the Wolves have the league’s worst defensive rating of 119.4, which is just so, so bad.
Hopefully, Butler will be back tonight, as it seemed like he was close to playing in the game against the Warriors.
The Nets are coming into tonight’s game after getting blown out by the Bucks last night 116-91. D’Angelo Russell has started playing again after a lengthy absence due to injury and he is still obviously working the rust off, as he ended up with 7 turnovers last night.
The Nets are beginning to have their own dilemma of how to allocate ball-handling duties with the return of Russell, as in his absence Spencer Dinwiddie and Carl LaVert have proved more than capable. Dinwiddie, in particular, has been excellent for the most part and in the previous matchup against the Wolves he was dominant, scoring 26 points while shooting 64 percent from the field and dishing out nine assists. He also had this game winner right over Taj Gibson.
The Wolves were without Jeff Teague that night and Teague will have his hands full tonight as the Nets are fairly reliant on their lead ball-handlers for scoring.
We also know the Nets are going to take a ton of threes. They are following the 76ers model of yesteryear of attempting to play a high-powered offensive style, but without the necessary talent to truly make it work. The Nets take the 2nd most threes in the NBA at 34.1 per game, but only have 28th ranked three-point percentage.
They will likely be without Rondae Hollis-Jefferson tonight, who had to exit last night’s game with a groin strain. RHJ is reportedly day-to-day with the injury, but it's tough to see him playing the second night of a road back-to-back after being forced to leave the previous game. Russell will also be out tonight as the Nets are managing his minutes.
The Wolves really just need to tighten back up on defense, but the Nets are not going to make things easy for them if Butler is out. This is exactly the type of game where the Wolves worst tendencies can come out. Playing against a team that they really should be able to beat that takes a ton of threes and plays at a fast pace.
One of the key ways we were able to see the defensive improvement in early January was how the Wolves were able to get back in transition and limit fast break points. In the last four games, the Wolves are last in the league giving up a ludicrous 25 fast break points per game. The Nets play at the 5th highest pace in the league, so they will be looking to push the tempo.
But the Wolves need to pick up this win. They have this game tonight and then a matchup against the Hawks, then it is a four-game stretch against the Raptors, Bucks, Cavs, and Pelicans.
Even if Jimmy is unable to go tonight, the Wolves have more than enough talent to easily put down this Nets team. However, we’ve seen this story go wrong before.
Projected Starting Lineups
Prediction - Wolves 110 - Nets 92.