What To Watch For
The Minnesota Timberwolves will look to close out 2021 on a high note as they square off against the Utah Jazz for the third time this season. Utah has had Minnesota’s number so far this season, dismantling them at Target Center to start the month of December and then holding off a COVID-depleted version of the Wolves last week in Salt Lake City. After tonight, these teams will face off one more time at the end of January, so tonight’s game is fairly important for Minnesota if they want to split the season series against their Northwest Division foe.
While COVID-19 continues to ravage Minnesota’s roster, things should get a little better tonight with the (expected) return of Anthony Edwards, Taurean Prince, and Jarred Vanderbilt (more on that in a minute). While both ANT and Prince cleared protocols prior to Tuesday’s game against the Knicks, the team chose to hold them out for a few more days so the two players could work themselves back into shape after a long quarantine (very relatable). While the Wolves will still be without Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, the return of ANT and others should give the team a major boost in the arm.
Speaking of Anthony Edwards — the last time he faced off against Utah (and Rudy Gobert to be specific), he had this quote after the game:
Anthony Edwards said the best rim protector in the league is Kristaps Porzingis. On Rudy Gobert, Ant was honest ...— Chris Hine (@ChristopherHine) December 9, 2021
'Anytime I go against Porzingis, I don’t get no layups. I don’t get why we couldn’t finish on Rudy Gobert. He don’t put no fear in my heart. I don’t know why."
Jazz fans weren’t too pleased that the Wolves, despite losing that first game by 32 points, were taking shots at their franchise center, and I’d imagine they’ll let Edwards (and the rest of the Wolves) hear about it tonight in Utah. That’s the bad news.
The good news? Anthony Edwards appears VERY ready to return to the basketball court:
Anthony Edwards is ready to roll tomorrow vs. Utah:— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) December 30, 2021
"I probably won’t sleep tonight. It’s probably going to feel like I got drafted again. It’s going to be fun."
No KAT and no D’Lo explains why the line tonight is as steep as it is (Jazz -12.5), but the Wolves’ reserves have displayed some major fight since being promoted in the rotation, so I’d expect a very competitive game tonight as we say goodbye to the year that was.
After tonight, the Wolves will likely fly at light speed to Los Angeles to celebrate New Years, before settling in for a January schedule that looks much, much easier than the December portion. Starting on Sunday with the Lakers, the Wolves will play five of their next six games against teams below .500 (Lakers, Rockets, Pelicans, and Thunder x2), which (IN THEORY!) should allow them to rebound a bit after struggling over the last few weeks due to a depleted roster. At 16-18, Minnesota currently finds themselves in the 9th spot in the Western Conference, but are just 1.5 games out of the 5-seed.
As mentioned at the top, all three of Edwards, Prince, and Vanderbilt are expected to return to tonight’s rotation. I’d imagine Ant and Vando return to the starting lineup, along with Patrick Beverley, Jaden McDaniels, and Naz Reid, presumably shifting Malik Beasley back to his bench role. I’ll be interested to see how Vando’s return affects the minutes of Nathan Knight (and to a lesser extent Greg Monroe), but without KAT for at least one more game, the Wolves will need all hands on deck from their front court.
Utah Jazz injury report:— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) December 30, 2021
OUT - Udoka Azubuike (right ankle sprain)
OUT - Mike Conley (rest)
OUT - Eric Paschall (personal reasons; non-COVID related)
QUESTIONABLE - Joe Ingles (left low back strain)
The injury report for Utah is much cleaner than it is for Minnesota, but the Jazz will indeed be without Mike Conley tonight as he gets a veteran’s night off. Joe Ingles (left low back strain) is also QUESTIONABLE, but as the Jazz have showed throughout the season, they have plenty of depth to help cover any and all injuries they might endure.
I’m also on recap duty tonight, so if you don’t see anything from me after the game, it’s likely because the Pinot Noir got the best of me before the end of the game (and well before the ball drops at midnight). Either way, I’ll have something up by tomorrow morning, so if we don’t chat again until Saturday, I want to wish each and every one of you an extremely HAPPY NEW YEAR — this is one of my least favorite holidays; however, I personally could use a fresh reset on life right now and with “22” being my favorite number, maybe next year will be a much more fruitful and enjoyable experience for not only me, but all of you as well.
Take care, be safe, and go Wolves.