What To Watch For
The Minnesota Timberwolves will look to bounce back from their worst loss since the All-Star break as they visit the Phoenix Suns for a mini two-game series (the Wolves and Suns play again tomorrow night as well).
Thanks to their blowout victory against the New Orleans Pelicans last Thursday, the Timberwolves actually have a +3.0 point differential since kicking off the second half of the season, which can be attributed to a combination of better offense as well as more sound defensive principles:
Chris Finch on how he’s using Karl-Anthony Towns differently on defense since he took over:— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) March 17, 2021
“We have him up a little bit more in pick-and-rolls, so we’re trying to show more crowd to the ball. His communication’s been great. He’s got good feel defensively, he really does.” https://t.co/rEcBBuk2kk
As Dane mentions above, new head coach Chris Finch appears to be asking the team (most notably Karl-Anthony Towns) to drop less in pick-and-roll coverage, instead challenging KAT to move his feet more on the perimeter. While it’s still too early to make sweeping assumptions of this change in defensive philosophy, plays like this one show that asking more of Towns on the defensive end might be a far better strategy than what he’s been asked of in the past.
The other main thing to watch for tonight in terms of the Timberwolves is the continued development of Anthony Edwards, who has made a mini-leap since returning from the break:
Anthony Edwards since the ASB— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) March 17, 2021
@ LAL: 29 PTS | 4 REB | 1 AST | 2 TO | 1 STL
v POR: 34 PTS | 4 REB | 2 AST | 2 TO | 1 STL
v POR: 21 PTS | 8 REB | 3 AST | 3 TO | 1 STL
@ NO: 27 PTS | 4 REB | 2 AST | 3 TO | 3 STL
• 28.5 PPG on 48.8/42.9/70 splits
• 5 REB
• 1.8 APG
• 1 SPG
ANT now has as many 20+ point scoring performances under Chris Finch (7) as he had under Ryan Saunders (7). While it’s important to also mention that this latest scoring barrage has come with BOTH D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley sidelined, it’s important nonetheless to see Edwards push through the proverbial “rookie wall” as he continues to show flashes of superstardom on a nightly basis.
As for Minnesota’s opponent for the next two nights, the Phoenix Suns are... well they are really damn good at basketball. The acquisition of Chris Paul in the offseason has been a home run move for the team in the desert, as the Suns sit only 2.5 games back of the no. 1 seed in the Western Conference. In addition to Paul (and obviously Devin Booker), Phoenix has seen third-year swingman Mikal Bridges take a leap, as the former Villanova Wildcat is averaging career highs in points (13.6), rebounds (4.8), assists (2.2), blocks (0.9), and 3P% (41.6%).
After this difficult back-to-back in Phoenix, the Timberwolves will return home for a four-game stretch that includes games against Oklahoma City, Dallas, and back-to-back games against the rapidly tanking Houston Rockets. With the schedule easing up a bit next week, let’s see if the Timberwolves can parlay this second-half momentum into a couple more victories as they approach next Thursday’s trade deadline.
Minnesota @Timberwolves Status Report in advance of tomorrow's game at Phoenix:— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) March 17, 2021
Culver - Left Great Toe Strain
Beasley - League Suspension
McLaughlin - Health & Safety Protocols
Russell - Left Knee Surgery
No real surprises here, although Jarrett Culver being upgraded to DOUBTFUL signals that a return may come as soon as tomorrow night. Otherwise, Minnesota will once again be without the services of most of their backcourt, resulting in increased playing time for everyone’s new favorite player Jaylen Nowell.
As for the Suns, they will be without second-year player Cameron Johnson, who is currently in the NBA’s Health & Safety Protocol.