Wolves (29-32) at Pacers (40-22)
6:00 pm CST
Well, last night was pretty rough. Here’s the direct quote from the first sentence of yesterday’s preview, “More than any other game, these road games against bottom-of-the-conference teams scare me. Minnesota has made a habit the past few years of losing games very similar to this one.” Yeah, that went exactly as expected. If you need a good vent, Kyle’s recap is a pretty good start.
Thankfully for Minnesota, they are NOT playing against a bottom tier team tonight. Somehow, that makes me feel more at peace with how this team will come out and play tonight.
I’m sure TNT isn’t super pleased that this game is on their slate tonight, but it’s still a pretty intriguing matchup in my eyes. Yeah, it’d be a more intriguing matchup in terms of star power if Victor Oladipo and even Robert Covington who I’d consider a pseudo-star. There’s still a lot of really, really good players in this game. The only problem is that most of them are on the Pacers sideline.
Indiana, somehow, hasn’t skipped a beat since losing Victor Oladipo. They’re 8-3 in February, still in 3rd place in Eastern Conference. Everyone keeps waiting for them to slip so that Boston and Philadelphia don’t have to play each other in the first round, but I’m not convinced that’s going to happen.
In a word, this Indiana team is tough. They allow the least amount of points per game in the NBA, and own the second-best defensive rating in the NBA.
They are anchored by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Myles Turner, who has transformed from a promising prospect to a terrifying presence this season. Turner averages 2.7 blocks per game, good for first in the league.
The Wolves are not exactly equipped with terrifying drivers to the rim, but Turner’s presence is one of the few who can make Towns really work into a potentially inefficient night. It’s going to be paramount that KAT does not end up in foul trouble early due to fighting for position and/or using his off arm, which he has been prone to do against some of the leagues best defenders.
Turner moves pretty well for a big man, but Towns is still probably best off operating from the perimeter through the pick and pop and then attacking the post when a smaller defender is switched onto him.
Beyond Turner, Indiana is certainly not short on front court players. Thad Young has been outstanding this year for Indiana on both ends of the floor. The former Timberwolves forward is long and athletic.
While the starting front court for Indiana is a problem, where this game could really get away from the Wolves is when each team’s reserves are in. Domantas Sabonis is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate due to his absurdly efficient scoring and rebounding off the bench. Sabonis averages 14 & 9 in only 24 minutes per game, and does so while posting a TS% of 65%. For reference, Steph Curry’s TS% this season is 65.6%, and his career TS% is 62.4%. The point being, Sabonis is about as efficient of a player as we have in the NBA.
It’s not just Sabonis though, Tyreke Evans, Doug McDermott, Cory Joseph, and Aaron Holiday are also exceptional bench contributors. It’s an inexact science for sure, but its worth noting that the 4-player lineup of Sabonis/Evans/McDermott/Joseph has a net-rating of +10.5 in roughly 400 minutes together this season. As a whole, Indiana’s bench has the best net-rating in the NBA at +3.6. Minnesota will need to start fast tonight, because their bench will likely bleed points and fail to score against Indiana’s second unit.
Jeff Teague is returning to the lineup tonight, which will bump Tyus Jones to the bench. That’s a boost for the bench, obviously, but Luol Deng being out again is not a welcome sight.
The Pacers aren’t flashy, but if Minnesota plays like they did last night, they’re going to get punched in the mouth all night long.
Bet of the night
I’m in no way saying that you SHOULD make these bets. I’m not betting them. It’s just a fun extra thing that I’ll be tracking for the remainder of the season. All lines via Bovada.
Last night stunk. The Wolves lost, so obviously -5 didn’t hit. Whatever. We’re down to 5-7 on the season so it’s time to get back on track.
The pick: Under 221 total points (-110)
To make this brief, I expect the Wolves to struggle to score because of how good Indiana is defensively. It feels foolish to doubt KAT’s offensive abilities regardless of matchup, but this could be a tough one for him. With that in mind, I’m not confident in any of the other Wolves to provide consistent, efficient offense. Alternatively, the pacers are fairly middle of the pack offensively, but they don’t possess the type of players that really give the Wolves problems. That is, they don’t have a dynamic pick-and-roll player. I expect the Wolves to hang tough defensively. Points may be at a premium this evening.