After the early optimism spurred by two victories over the Pistons and Jazz, the early season has taken a rapid turn for the worst. Two of the Wolves starters are now injured, as Karl-Anthony Towns is week-to-week with his wrist injury and Josh Okogie’s scary leg injury has turned from “cramping” into a strained hamstring. Thankfully, both injuries are hopefully more manageable than they originally appeared on the court, but the Wolves will be sorely tested without Okogie and Towns.
The Clippers, like the Lakers before, are already a terrible matchup for the Wolves. Our qualms with the power forward spot prior to the season were been justified, as the Wolves’ best option seemed to be putting 6’4” Okogie at the four, while having him guard the opposing team's primary offensive threat.
Now, without Okogie or Towns, the Wolves are in deep trouble against a team that plays two seven-footers in the frontcourt in Ivica Zubac and Serge Ibaka. Rolling out Juancho Hernangomez and Naz Reid is likely the best option, but then the Wolves still have to contend with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. It will certainly not help that the Clippers are coming off a historic loss to the Mavericks and have been ridiculed all week.
The Wolves are probably going to get demolished this game. The talent disparity is immense and the roster further exacerbates the frontcourt depth shortcomings. The Wolves will probably play a lot of zone tonight and the best we can hope for is that the game is semi-competitive. However, there are still a few things we can watch for.
D’Angelo Russell in the featured role - In Russell’s first game as the lead option, at least this season, he was abjectly terrible. Russell was lackadaisical with the ball, struggled to create his own shots or opportunities for others, and was a sieve on defense. In Towns’ absence, Russell needs to take on a leadership role and prove that the Wolves’ faith in his skills has merit. So far, he has only provided more ammunition to his doubters. Even in the Wolves victories, it has been unclear whether Russell is doing more harm than good. If he is the rising star he believes himself to be, the Wolves need to be able to put up a competitive showing without Towns.
Jarrett Culver and Anthony Edwards Rising - The Culver-Edwards hype train is accelerating at a breakneck pace. The Lakers game showed that the two still have a long ways to go, but Culver and Edwards have deserved our attention. Without Okogie, Culver is now the Wolves' best point-of-attack defender and will likely be inserted into the starting lineup. At some point, Edwards and Culver may find themselves matched up with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. While, of course, the Wolves wing duo is light-years from the All-NBA level of PG and Kawhi, tonight may provide another barometer of which to set our excitement and wildest dreams for Culver and Edwards.
Where is the Offense? - Without KAT, the Wolves had a terrible offense last season. This season, the offense has looked disjointed and the first half against the Lakers was a reminder of how quickly the system can fall apart. The Wolves have another difficult task ahead tonight and will need to rely on Russell, Malik Beasley, and Edwards to lead the way.
Projected Starting Lineups
Los Angeles Clippers