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Game Preview #34: Wolves vs Wizards

The battle of the wayward franchises

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Timberwolves (7-26) at Washington Wizards (12-18)
6:00 CST
Fox Sports North

Things are going poorly in Minnesota Timberwolves land. They are 1-9 in their last ten games, just fired their head coach, and now their most consistent player all year in Malik Beasley is suspended for the next 12 games. Tonight, the Wolves take on the surging Wizards, who were having a similarly dreadful season but have now won 7 in the last 10 games and are just a few games out of the battle for the last play-in spot in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards are in the spot where we optimistically hoped to find the Wolves upon Karl-Anthony Towns return from COVID, fighting to save a lost season. But alas, injuries to D’Angelo Russell, continued struggles on defense and the fourth quarter, and now Beasley suspension has taken the wind out of our sails.

Truly, without Beasley, the Wolves will turn back to our familiar roster construction, which is barely an NBA team. Towns and Ricky Rubio will be the only two established starters, as it is uncertain who will slide into the starting role, but it will likely be either Jaylen Nowell, Jarrett Culver, or Jaden McDaniels. The Wolves will have an extremely inexperienced starting lineup and rotation, adding more difficulties to Chris Finch’s job of installing new systems and improvements on either end of the floor.

The Wizards run is being fueled by transcendent performances by Bradley Beal and strong support from role players like Rui Hachimura. The trade chatter has quieted a little around Beal as the team is closer to competing for the playoffs, but the solace will last only as long as the Wizards remain theoretically competitive.

The Wolves certainly have a chance to find their first victory under Finch tonight. While the Wizards are on a hot streak, it is not as if the team is suddenly rife with NBA talent. When Davis Bertans was out with a knee injury, the team was starting Garrison Mathews, who is on a two-way contract after playing 18 games for the Wizards last year.

But the Wolves will need to find some way to slow down Bradley Beal and defend the interior. In the last matchup against the Wizards, the Wolves were dominated inside when starting Culver at power forward. That will hopefully be alleviated tonight with Vanderbilt alongside Towns.

On offense, Towns and Anthony Edwards are going to get up a lot of shots. Ant’s rookie year has been defined by shooting inefficiency. On nights when he is more consistent, he looks unstoppable, but there are long stretches of games where he is 4-14 or 5-19. Without Beasley, if Ant struggles with his shot tonight, it is hard to see how the Wolves can muster enough offense to compete.

Unfortunately, with little immediate hope on the horizon and solid footing as the worst team in the league, it is hard not to begin the annual tradition of looking towards the draft. This is particularly exciting and terrifying this year, as the top tier of the draft picks is extraordinarily talented, while the Wolves trade with Golden State last year leaves them with a 40% chance of retaining their pick. The Tankathon simulator is a tempestuous mistress.

Projected Starting Lineups

Minnesota Timberwolves

Ricky Rubio
Anthony Edwards
Jarred Vanderbilt
Karl-Anthony Towns

Washington Wizards

Russell Westbrook
Bradley Beal
Davis Bertans
Rui Hachimura
Moe Wagner