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Game 20, Wolves vs Bulls: A Familiar Face Returns

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Zach LaVine leads Chicago into the Target Center

NBA: Miami Heat at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Wolves (8-11) vs Bulls (5-14)

7:00pm CST

FS North

After yesterday’s matinee victory over the Brooklyn Nets, Minnesota returns home to battle the Chicago Bulls.

After looking dead in the water just a few weeks ago, the Wolves have gone 4-2 since the Butler trade and are starting to position themselves for a run at a playoff spot in the West. There are several teams to leap frog in order to get there, but they’re also only 2.5 games out of the 8 seed.

If the Wolves want to have any shot at making up those 2.5 games, games like today’s are imperative.

It should be pretty simple. Minnesota is trying to win games. Chicago is actively trying to lose games. Minnesota should win this game.

However, in the past, this is the exact type of game that the Wolves have lost that have driven us crazy (see 2017-18 Wolves/Suns matchups).

The most interesting part about the Bulls, especially to the Timberwolves fanbase, is undoubtedly Zach LaVine and his development. The potential has always been apparent, and now some of that is starting to come to fruition.

On the year, LaVine is averaging 25 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. However, the efficiency numbers aren’t as pretty as Chicago would probably like. LaVine is shooting only 43% from the field and 30% from three. His 47.8 effective field goal percentage is also rather ugly.

In fairness to LaVine, he is being thrust into a role that he’s probably not perfectly suited for. He’s being asked to be the lead dog and primary initiator on offense, which is a role that Zach is not quite ready for. His 32.8 usage rate is second in the NBA among starters, right between James Harden and Joel Embiid. I love Zach, but that’s an absurd work load for him.

Despite the poor efficiency numbers, there have been some obvious points of improvement for LaVine so far this year. Specifically, he’s looked much better as a driver to the basket. Here’s an example of LaVine’s improvement in this area, and much of it (as noted in the video) has to do with his improved ball-handling ability.

As much as Zach has improved since leaving Minnesota, it probably won’t matter much today. He figures to see a lot of coverage from Robert Covington. RoCo has somehow outperformed the expectations that most of us had for him on the defensive end since joining the Wolves. To put into context how ridiculous that is, he made 1st Team All-Defense last year.

Jimmy (when engaged) was a phenomenal defender for the Wolves. Covington has been something completely different. I mean, just look at this.

While I’d love to use that information to take a shot at General Soreness himself, I really think that almost entirely has to do with the addition/subtraction of Covington. His length and activity level is otherworldly.

The wing feels like it’ll be taken care of, but what else does Minnesota have to do to ensure a victory tonight?

Well, outside of LaVine, Chicago’s biggest strength is in the post. Wendell Carter, Jr. is a physical player who can make things tough for KAT down low and protect the rim against drives.

To combat them, I’d really like to see Minnesota use KAT on the perimeter more often. He is so accurate from beyond the arc, and using him out there more often would pull the bigs away from the basket and negate the rim protectors a bit.

To be clear, I’m not just asking for a bunch of pick and pop action. The Wolves already do that a little bit (although not enough, in my opinion). I’d like to see them experiment more with running Towns off of a few screens on the perimeter. It would force those frontcourt players to play defense in a way they’re not used to or comfortable with.

I realize that asking for Thibs to experiment with something slightly out of the box offensively is an absurd request, but whatever.

Overall, this is a game the Wolves clearly should win. Again, one team is trying to win, and the other team is actively trying to lose.

Let’s get this one and keep inching back into the playoff race. Go Wolves.

Projected Lineups

Wolves

Jeff Teague

Andrew Wiggins

Robert Covington

Taj Gibson

Karl-Anthony Towns

Bulls

Ryan Arcidiacono

Zach LaVine

Justin Holiday

Jabari Parker

Wendell Carter, Jr.