Minnesota Timberwolves (10-13) host Utah Jazz (13-11)
The early optimism of this season has been quickly replaced by the unease over the four-game losing streak has produced. It has been clear all season that this Wolves team had its warts, but the new pace-and-space system appeared like it would allow the Wolves to overshoot low-expectations and potentially surprise for a playoff spot.
Those hopes are dwindling as the rest of the Western Conference morass is catching up to the Wolves just as the team is backsliding. Teams have clearly figured out how to slow down the Wolves. All they have to do is stop Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins and make the rest of the team beat you. Worse, the Wolves smaller lineups are getting bullied on a night-to-night basis and the defense is just getting slaughtered.
The Jazz were one of the first teams to figure the Wolves out when the teams played in consecutive matches. In Game 1, the Wolves looked like they could pick at the Jazz’s strengths, with Towns pulling Gobert far out of the paint, making 7 of 15 threes. Heading into the second game, there was a lot of speculation with how the Jazz would counter. Would they put Gobert on a non-shooter and have a power forward chase Towns around the perimeter? Had the Wolves three-point shooting disrupted the vaunted Jazz defense?
The Jazz took an easier approach and simply stuck Gobert on Towns far beyond the perimeter. In Game 2, Towns had 13 fewer shot attempts. Towns shot 4 of 7 on threes that game. The rest of the team shot 10 of 38 and the Jazz won handily.
This has become a familiar story. Teams have keyed in on Towns so heavily that he is unable to be as much of a threat on offense. The rest of the team is not capable of taking advantage of the situation, as the two other offensive threats, Jeff Teague and Andrew Wiggins, have been up-and-down to say the least. While Wiggins has marginally improved in these past few games, he has been a far cry from the stretch of games where we all collectively thought that maybe, just maybe, he was turning a corner.
Of course, the Jazz have had their own issues. Their offense has been putrid and Mike Conley and Joe Ingles have not adapted to their new roles. The Jazz are just 2-6 in their last 8 games and are looking to get right in this stretch that starts with the Wolves and continues with the Warriors, Magic, Hawks, and Hornets.
The Jazz will be without Mike Conley tonight due to a hamstring strain. Joe Ingles will return to the starting lineup in his place.
Both teams will be featuring some funky lineups. The Jazz will start without a real point guard and the Wolves still have no idea what to do beyond the core of Towns, Wiggins, and Robert Covington. Should Jarrett Culver continue to start? Has adding Josh Okogie to the mix cratered the Wolves flow? Can a team even play small if they only have two effective shooters?
It likely does not matter all that much what the Wolves do. The strength, and limitation, of this team is that they have a bunch of guys who are really good 7th or 8th rotation players. If those players are playing above their average on any given night, all of the sudden the Wolves are super deep on the wing. If they are playing below their average, the Wolves look like they are barely fielding an NBA team. We shall see who shows up tonight.
Jake Layman will remain out tonight and Jeff Teague is a game time decision.
Projected Starting Lineups
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