Wolves (13-15) at Suns (5-24)
After a trio of consecutive road losses saw the Minnesota Timberwolves fall to 2-11 away from Target Center this season, they will look to get back on track against the Phoenix Suns tonight.
The Suns have been the league’s worst team this season, and dysfunction has followed them around every corner of their 29 games. However, they are coming off an encouraging win over Luka Doncic and the blossoming Dallas Mavericks. They have a pair of budding young talents in Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton, but they have struggled to produce enough to drag their team to consistent wins.
To make matters worse for Suns faithful, Booker is still considered questionable on the injury report with an ongoing hamstring problem. Josh Jackson, the 2017 fourth pick who has been extremely underwhelming this season, is also questionable due to a sprained toe. On the other hand, Taj Gibson will miss the game for Minnestoa due to personal reasons.
Without Gibson, it’s safe to assume that Dario Saric will finally get his first start in a Timberwolves uniform. He his play has been trending upwards lately and he seems to be a seamless fit next to Karl-Anthony Towns, so it will be exciting to see how they mesh in a larger role.
The Timberwolves have struggled mightily when they leave Minneapolis, and have hit their worst lull in the Covington and Saric era after allowing the Sacramento Kings to drop 141 points on their head on Wednesday night.
After forging a reputation as a defensive force post-Jimmy Butler, they have let their guard down over the past three games. Literally. In a dispiriting road trip thus far, Minnesota has registered a ghoulish 119.3 defensive rating.
Fortunately, the Phoenix offense is not nearly the same caliber as the Portland, Golden State, or Sacramento offenses. They score just 101.3 points per 100 possessions, and rank 29th in points per game, 20th in field goal percentage, and 26th in 3-point percentage, per NBA stats.
Theoretically, it should be the perfect night for the Wolves to get their defensive effort back on track. However, they have been known to sink to their opponents level at times. Despite winning 47 games last season, Minnesota dropped two of their four games to the 21-win Suns last season. They will need to come out firing and not give the Suns a sniff at a two-game win streak.
That defensive staunchness starts with current Defensive Player of the Year front-runner Robert Covington, who hasn’t looked completely healthy of late. He sat out the Portland tilt with knee soreness, and has often looked lethargic and sore throughout the two games since. Minnesota have a nice little two-day break between the Kings loss and the Suns game, which is ideal recovery time for a laboring RoCo, although he will still not be guaranteed to play. The 28-year-old is considered probable according to the team injury report.
One interesting development in the Timberwolves previous game was Josh Okogie getting first-half minutes while the usual nine-man rotation was healthy. He played a tick under six minutes, registering two points and an assist.
While the Suns proved they can shock teams who don’t show up against them in Thursday night’s win, the odds are heavily stacked in Minnesota’s side for this one.
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