Wolves at Spurs
7:30 pm CST
40-29, 5th place in the Western Conference, 2.5 games behind the third place Portland Trailblazers and one game ahead of the eighth place San Antonio Spurs. This is what it’s all about.
When the Spurs hosted the Wolves on October 18th, it was the season opener for both teams. Expectations for the Wolves were high--Jimmy Butler was on the scene. The Spurs expected Kawhi Leonard to return from his hip injury relatively soon, and were expected to have another Spursian season.
That night, the Spurs would outlast the Wolves, 107-99, behind 25 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists from all-star LaMarcus Aldridge. But just one month later - November 15th - the Wolves defeated the Spurs 96-86 for the first time in the careers of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns’; Towns led the way with 26 points and 16 rebounds while no Spurs player managed more than 15 points.
Both matchups were won by the home team, and that makes sense: while the Wolves are 26-8 at home and 14-21 on the road, the Spurs sit at 25-8 at home and 14-22 away from San Antonio. If the Wolves are to win tonight, they’ll need to buck a trend.
Though much has changed since before Thanksgiving - Leonard returned for just nine frustrating games and Jimmy Butler went down with a torn meniscus - these two teams have stayed neck and neck in the playoff picture.
Leonard remains out for San Antonio, though it remains possible he returns before the end of the season. When asked recently about his best player’s confusing injury, coach Gregg Popovich remarked that, “he’s got to be cleared by his medical staff that he’s seeing. And until he gets cleared, we can’t make a decision on when he’s coming back.”
With 13 games to play and the Spurs clinging to the final playoff spot, they could obviously benefit from the presence of their all-NBA wing. But as Pop said, “if we’re going to err, we’re going to err on the conservative side.” After 19 consecutive years of postseason appearances the Spurs are at risk of ending one of sport’s most impressive steaks. In fact, since 1993-94 there has only been one season in which they won less than 60% of their games (1996-97). To put that into perspective, the Wolves winning percentage so far this season is .580. But nothing matters more to the Spurs than the health of their key players, hopefully that will work to the Wolves advantage tonight.
The Spurs are winners of of two straight, but stumbled through a difficult 2-9 stretch immediately before. The Wolves, similarly, have won two consecutive following their first three game losing streak of the season.
The Wolves have just a handful of games remaining against Western Conference playoff competitors; matchups in which tie breakers are on the line and separation can be created. Defeating the Spurs tonight would give them the upper hand should they finish the season with identical records. Not only would it make a meaningful difference in their playoff outlook, it would further the momentum garnered through thrilling victories over the Warriors and Wizards.
Our blogging buddies are over at Pounding the Rock. Be excellent.