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Game Preview #35: Wolves vs Hornets

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Minnesota Timberwolves v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

Minnesota Timberwolves (7-28) at Washington Wizards (16-18)

7:00 CST

Fox Sports North

The Minnesota Timberwolves face off against the Charlotte Hornets tonight in the team’s final game before the All-Star break. The Timberwolves have lost 14 of their last 16 games and haven’t won since February 14th. This All-Star break is desperately needed for the team, and the fans, to step away, clear their heads, and regroup. Before we can enjoy not thinking about basketball for a few days, we have to battle with the Hornets.

In the Timberwolves’ first matchup with the Hornets, we saw a rather exciting game. We saw a stretch of Anthony Edwards and LaMelo trading possessions. Malik Beasley was on fire from behind the arc but was outdone by Terry Rozier’s season-high 41 points. It was a game that the Timberwolves could have easily won if not for some questionable decisions down the stretch.

Now that the Timberwolves are missing D’Angelo Russell to injury and Beasley to suspension, the backcourt of Ball and Rozier may feast tonight. Both guards have played well recently, and Ball seems to be steadily pulling away in the Rookie of the Year race.

The Hornets have been facing some injury issues recently. Cody Zeller missed their last three games with a bruised left hip and is listed as questionable tonight. Zeller was a significant factor in the first game as he was a team-high +17 with 17 points and eight rebounds.

Additionally, Gordon Hayward has been upgraded to probable after missing the Hornets’ previous two games with a bruised right hand. Hayward also gave the Timberwolves fits in their first matchup with 14 points, seven rebounds, and five assists.

The Hornets have far exceeded expectations this season, and now that they are only a game and a half out of the fourth seed, I would expect that anyone on the fringes of being healthy will play.

For the Timberwolves, I expect we will continue to see the offense flow through Karl-Anthony Towns. Since the arrival of Chris Finch, we have seen a slight change in the offensive philosophy. For anyone who expected significant changes this season, you’ll need to reevaluate those expectations. Implementing new systems in the middle of the season, especially one with limited practices, is nearly impossible. We may see some changes after the break, but not tonight.

However, I do expect to see Towns be the focus of the offense in different locations on the floor. I expect post-ups where Towns will feast against smaller defenders or make exquisite passes to teammates when the defense doubles. When Bismack Biyombo is defending Towns, I expect Towns to stretch out to the perimeter and force Biyombo to defend in space. There are no excuses for Towns not to have a substantial offensive game tonight.

As far as concerns go, I always worry about the defense. Nothing seems to have changed on that end of the floor, and with how bad the Timberwolves have been at defending guards this season, Ball and Rozier will likely have huge games again. A change I would like to see, however, is more Jaden McDaniels. Since Finch’s arrival, McDaniels’s minutes have been trending downward. Hopefully, this is just a case of a new coach experimenting and trying to figure out his new players, but McDaniels has been a rare bright spot this season and a player who has proven he deserves minutes.

While losses are now crucial in the quest for Cade Cunningham, the occasional win will not be viewed with disdain. Entering the extended break with a win and on a high note would be delightful.

Projected Starting Lineups

Minnesota Timberwolves

Ricky Rubio

Josh Okogie

Anthony Edwards

Jarred Vanderbilt

Karl-Anthony Towns

Charlotte Hornets

LaMelo Ball

Terry Rozier

Gordon Hayward

P.J. Washington

Bismack Biyombo/Cody Zeller (if healthy)