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Game #5: The Battle for the North

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The Wolves travel to Toronto to take on the Raptors

Minnesota Timberwolves v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Minnesota Timberwolves (2-2) at Toronto Raptors (4-0)
6:30 CST
FSNorth

Tonight, the Minnesota Timberwolves will take on the Toronto Raptors to definitively decide which team gets to claim that they are the true northern NBA team. The Toronto Raptors have settled on their slogan of “We The North” even though they are a lower latitude than Minneapolis and Portland. Those Canadians are always so inconsiderate. Must be that government health care.

Anyways, while none of that may be true, there is still a basketball game to be played. This is going to be the Wolves first significant test of the season, as their opening matches against the Spurs, Hawks, Cavaliers, and Pacers have come against teams that are either lottery-bound or in the playoff middle-class. The Raptors are real title contenders, feature one of the league’s best players in Kawhi Leonard, and are extraordinarily deep. The Ringer published a great article yesterday detailing why this year’s Toronto’s team is likely the best one that it has ever put together.

It’s hard not to be impressed by what the Raptors can do. Last year, they revamped their offense and defense to a more modern NBA style and had one of the best benches in the league. This year, they are on the same trajectory and essentially swapped our DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi. Their bench unit of Fred VanFleet, Normal Powell, CJ Miles, OG Anunoby, and Jonas Valanciunas allows them to mix and match lineups depending on playing style. They have an incredible amount of wings, all while having an all-star point guard in Kyle Lowry.

They are simply one the best teams in the NBA and one of the few that has a chance of matching up against the Warriors. That has proved true this season thus far, as they have started out 4-0 and are one of the few teams with a top-ten offensive and defensive rating.

The Wolves have their work cut out for them on both ends of the floor. They are going to have to contain Kyle Lowry at the point of attack, while dealing with the whirring offense that has the fourth best effective field goal rate in the NBA. Kawhi Leonard is playing as if his mysterious medley of injuries never happened, scoring 25.7 points a game with 8.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists, all while demolishing people on defense. The only solace for the Wolves is that they have one of the few All-NBA wings that can go toe-to-toe with Kawhi in Jimmy Butler.

For the Wolves, they will be seeking to build off their previous defensive success against the Indiana Pacers. Before that game, the Wolves looked like they would be repeating their failures on defense, having just let the Dallas Mavericks score 140 points. It will be interesting to see how much run Josh Okogie gets if Andrew Wiggins is able to play. If Okogie is pressed into major minutes, this will certainly be a huge test for him on both ends of the court.

Karl-Anthony Towns is going to be incredibly important tonight on both ends of the court. He could force the Raptors to play sub-optimal lineups if Paskal Siakim and Serge Ibaka are unable to contain him. He is also going to have to play with his head on a swivel, as the Raptors can play 5-out lineups. It is very possible the Wolves will be forced to play small-ball tonight.

This could be a rough game, but the Wolves could prove that they still belong in the playoff discussion with a victory tonight.

Projected Starting Lineups

Minnesota Timberwolves

Jeff Teague
Jimmy Butler
Andrew Wiggins
Taj Gibson
Karl-Anthony Towns

Toronto Raptors

Kyle Lowry
Danny Green
Kawhi Leonard
Paskal Siakim
Serge Ibaka

Prediction - Toronto 115 - Wolves 100. This is not an easy game and we could see things fall apart for the Wolves.