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Game Preview #23: Wolves at Nets

The bruised, .500 Timberwolves look to avenge a preseason loss in Brooklyn against Kevin Durant and the Nets.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Game Info

Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (11-11) at Brooklyn Nets (15-6)
When: 6:30pm CST
TV: Bally Sports North
Radio: 830 WCCO AM Radio
Line: Wolves +7.5 | O/U 222.5


The Minnesota Timberwolves will step in between the lines at the The Clays (s/o Joe Tsai for the downright terrible nickname for Barclays Center), in what is a scheduled loss against the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded Brooklyn Nets, at .500 on the season (11-11) and lacking no confidence because of it.

“We’ve got nothing to worry about,” Anthony Edwards said after the team’s 115-107 loss to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night. “We’re just as good as every other team in the league, so I don’t think this month will be tough at all. We’re just as good as any team you can name.”

The most refreshing part about Edwards’s comments is that they don’t feel hollow; this Timberwolves team has a much stronger jaw than those of old, and the team actually feels like they can compete with anyone, which shows up on the floor.

Miami Heat v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Minnesota is sixth in net rating (+8.7), ninth in offensive rating (113.8) and fourth in defensive rating (105.1) over the last nine game, according to Cleaning the Glass. During that stretch the Timberwolves have played with an evident, oozing confidence that has endured individual rough patches from each of their Big Three — Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Edwards — at one point or another during games.

Towns was assessed his third foul and Patrick Beverley left with a groin injury early in the first quarter against the playoff-bound Miami Heat at Target Center last week, but Russell and Edwards were there to serve as a steadying force their teammates (and honestly, Timberwolves fans) desperately needed while they were sidelined. After Miami punched back in the second and third quarters, those two answered the bell and led the team to a fifth straight win.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Wolves I grew up on would’ve folded, like the thousands of tables homebound college students sent each other through on Drunksgiving™, after losing Towns and the team’s most impactful defender within a matter of minutes. I’m 23 years old. I’m not used to seeing the Wolves team fight like this one has not just in individual games, but also over the course of the young season.

Minnesota lost eight of nine games against mostly playoff teams over the first two weeks of November and sat at 4-9 overall after a 3-1 start. Instead of panicking, the team ran it up on mostly terrible teams and sits here today at 11-11, weathering the loss of Beverley and the widespread flu-like symptoms going round the locker room in an admirable way.

“This is what we wanted. This is the challenge we wanted,” Jarred Vanderbilt said Wednesday night. “Just got to lock in, bring the same effort every night and give ourselves the best chance every night.”

What To Watch For

The best test yet comes tonight, against an excellent, but flawed team that the Wolves actually match up better with than you may expect.

Brooklyn’s starting five contains three guards 6-foot-5 or shorter. No matter who starts at SF (presumably Taurean Prince), the Wolves will have the size advantage and will call plays to exploit matchups according to that. Better yet for Minnesota, none of them with eye-popping athleticism that can give the Wolves unguarable issues off the dribble.

Offensive Profile

Steve Nash’s crew takes 26.3% of their shots at the rim, a frequency that places them 29th in the NBA according to Cleaning the Glass. That should result in a big sigh of relief for Chris Finch’s Wolves, whose opponents get to the rim for 34.3% of their looks (22nd). With Nicolas Claxton returning to action tonight for the first time since October 25th with a non-COVID illness, the Nets have some added interior firepower to battle with Towns and Naz Reid inside.

Instead, Brooklyn likes to get into the mid-range, where they shoot a league-best 48.0%, thanks to the best mid-range player in the league, Kevin Durant, shooting a hilariously good 56.0% on 235 attempts; for reference, Chris Paul is shooting 53% on 155 attempts. Between Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge, Brooklyn will settle for plenty of mid-rangers if Minnesota runs them off the line; if they can contest well in the mid-range, Minnesota has a very good shot at not only covering the 7.5, but winning outright.

Brooklyn posts up at the 9th-highest frequency in the NBA, maintaining a slightly-above-average 0.92 points per possession mark, per Synergy. Minnesota actually does a good job defending post-ups, too, ranking 13th in post-up defense. That brings us to where the game will likely be won and lost: at the 3-point line.

3-Point Shooting Contest

Brooklyn and Minnesota enter tonight as the first and second-ranked 3-point defenses (by percentage), respectively. However, the Nets hold a significant advantage on the offensive end; they ranked third in the league at 38.2%, while the Wolves lag behind at 33.8% (22nd), despite having the third-highest 3-point rate in the league (43.0%), according to Cleaning the Glass.

The Nets have cooled to shooting 32.5% from deep over the last five games, in part due to the absence of Joe Harris, who is out indefinitely after having left ankle surgery. If Minnesota can continue their stingy 3-point defense thanks to excellent rotating, correctly x-ing out on shooters, and running threats like Patty Mills and Durant off the line, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Timberwolves emerge victorious tonight.


Injury Reports

Minnesota

Probable

  • Anthony Edwards (flu-like symptoms)
  • Jarred Vanderbilt (flu-like symptoms)
  • Jaylen Nowell (non-COVID illness)

Out

  • Patrick Beverley (left adductor strain)
  • Karl-Anthony Towns (tailbone contusion)
  • Jaden McDaniels (flu-like symptoms)
  • McKinley Wright IV (G-League two-way assignment)

Edwards and McDaniels said on Wednesday that neither of them were 100% during the loss to Washington, but that they are fine and will play tonight.

Towns took part in shootaround this morning, according to the tremendous Alan Horton of Timberwolves radio, but is now out.

Luis M. Alvarez / AP Photo

Per our good friend Chris Hine of the Star Tribune, Beverley also got some on-court work during today’s shootaround. This is the first time he’s done that since injuring his groin last week. Beverley is set to be re-evaluated at the two-week mark, which would be this coming Wednesday.

After appearing as questionable yesterday (which drew speculation that he had joined the team in Brooklyn), McDaniels, in fact, did not make the trip and is out again tonight.

Brooklyn

Out

  • Joe Harris (left ankle surgery)

Gambling Pick

I’m giving out a gambling pick before every Wolves game this season. So far, I am 15-7 (68%).

Tonight’s play: D’Angelo Russell O6.5 assists

  • Russell averages 7.2 per game on the road
  • He has gone O6.5 assists in all but two road games this year (7-2 record to the over)
  • He has gone O6.5 assists in four of the last five games overall
  • Brooklyn is allowing 7.7 per game to opposing point guards this season
  • Even if Towns can’t go, he’ll run plenty of pick-and-roll with Reid against Aldridge and Claxton