Wolves (3-9) vs Magic (6-8)
7:00 pm CST
FS North / WCCO Radio
Two immovable forces will collide tonight at Target Center when the injury-ravaged Orlando Magic, riding a six-game losing streak, meet a KAT-less Minnesota Timberwolves team that has, rather impressively and convincingly, strung together nine losses in its last 10 games.
Orlando will tonight be without starting point guard Markelle Fultz and starting wing Jonathan Isaac to torn ACLs, rotation forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Chuma Okeke, backup guard Michael Carter-Williams, and backup big Mo Bamba. Surely the Wolves will be competitive, right?
Maybe. Just maybe.
In a chaotic loss to the Hawks in Atlanta on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day, the Wolves took an important step forward, which of course was drowned by the team inventing new ways to lose. Much to the joy of Timberwolves Twitter (myself included), Ryan Saunders inserted Jarred Vanderbilt into the starting lineup alongside defensive stalwart Josh Okogie, D’Angelo Russell, NBA Star Malik Beasley, and Naz Reid.
The move led to much better defensive activity, and consequently, turning the Hawks over a whopping 26 times. Saunders had Okogie and Vanderbilt switch pick-and-rolls, which led to both Vanderbilt guarding Trae Young admirably on switches and the Hawks struggling in the first six minutes of the game. This defensive tandem is a very real and impactful one, and it was encouraging to see Saunders tap into some of its potential to generate momentum and impact the game.
Despite this, the Wolves still found a way to lose in large part because of their brutal 40.7 percent 2-point shooting, inability to rebound (lost on the glass 57-47) , and apparent reluctance to take care of the ball themselves (18 turnovers).
In the Magic, the Wolves face a team who is 26th in opponent 2-point field goal percentage, 25th in rebounding, and 20th in opponent turnovers per game. Steve Clifford’s squad is traditionally one of the best defenses in the NBA, but is undermanned and provides an opportunity for the Wolves to improve on the areas that failed them Monday. In starting rookie Cole Anthony and a limited Evan Fournier (back), the Magic are also ill-equipped to slow down Minnesota’s high-octane backcourt of D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley.
Offensively, the Wolves have no excuse for another sub-100 game, especially at home, where Malik Beasley is averaging 25 per game and D’Angelo Russell comes in riding a streak of scoring 25+ points in five of his last six games. Anthony Edwards has struggled in recent games, but will likely draw either Dwayne Bacon or Terrence Ross (who are average, thinner defenders). Combine his matchup with the Magic lacking a 7-foot, physically imposing rim protector and we may finally see the #1 pick find a rhythm once again tonight. Minnesota has no chance of winning this game tonight without Beasley and Russell continuing their strong play and Edwards getting back on track.
The defensive end is where things will get tricky for Minnesota. Sharpshooting French guard Evan Fournier returns tonight after missing the Magic’s last nine (essentially 10) games. With him in the lineup for the entire game, Orlando is 4-0. Without him, the team has struggled to maintain good spacing and shoot consistently. His return will make it tougher for Minnesota to guard All-Star center Nikola Vucevic, who is averaging a career-high 22.9 points on 52.0/42.5/80.0 shooting splits. Vucevic can score effectively at all three levels, but is particularly dangerous in the mid-range, where Minnesota has struggled has struggled to defend. He shoots 41 percent of his shots from the second level; the Wolves defense ranks 23rd in opponent field goal percentage in that area, so expect the Swiss scorer to play well tonight. I assume Jarred Vanderbilt will be tasked with guarding Aaron Gordon, so Naz Reid is likely to draw the Vooch matchup tonight and have an opportunity to make progress on defense against one of the league’s best scoring bigs.
Tonight is a winnable game for Minnesota if they can return to form offensively while remaining active and aggressive defensively, but it is much easier said than done against one of the league’s most even-keeled, consistent teams.
Winner of the Day
This season, I’ve posted my favorite bet for each game of the Timberwolves’ season. Entering tonight, I am 7-4-1 (63.6 percent). For those nightly picks, and all my Wolves analysis, you can follow me on Twitter @jrborman13.
For the gambling crowd, there are mismatches all over the floor tonight for both teams. Orlando won’t be able to effectively guard Russell or Beasley (assuming Gordon takes one of them), while Minnesota may have no answer for Nikola Vucevic inside because of the added spacing and shooting with Fournier back in the mix.
Despite Orlando’s defensive acumen, I trust that Malik Beasley will continue his sweltering performance at Target Center and stuff the stat sheet in what is a game Minnesota desperately needs in order to remain within an arm’s reach of the Western Conference playoff race. Beasley’s over scoring prop is 6-0 at home and I expect that to move to 7-0 tonight behind hot 3-point shooting and an aggressive mindset to attack an average rim defender in Vucevic.
The Pick: NBA Star Malik Beasley O20.5 points or O27.5 points + rebounds + assists
Al-Farouq Aminu (knee), Mo Bamba (Health and Safety Protocols), Michael Carter-Williams (foot), Markelle Fultz (knee), Jonathan Isaac (knee), Chuma Okeke (knee)
OUT (Health and Safety Protocols):
Juancho Hernangomez, Ricky Rubio, Karl-Anthony Towns
Josh Okogie (hamstring)
James Ennis III