What To Watch For
The Wolves tonight will be without its starting backcourt in D’Angelo Russell (left shin contusion) and Patrick Beverley (right ankle sprain) on the road in Phoenix against one of the top duos in the NBA, Chris Paul and Devin Booker. Injuries haven’t been kind to the Suns, either, who are without starters Deandre Ayton and Jae Crwoder as well as backup centers JaVale McGee and Frank Kaminsky, and backup point guard Cameron Payne.
Despite all of that, Minnesota are 7.5-point underdogs facing the NBA’s best team by record.
Chris Finch’s group will play less than 24 hours after a tough loss in San Francisco against the Warriors, during which Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns played 37 and 36 minutes, respectively, in the duo’s final scheduled national television game of the regular season.
The superb offensive battery is no stranger to showing up when needed in Phoenix. Edwards and Towns dropped 42 and 41, respectively, last March without Russell and Beasley against a full-strength Suns team.
They have the overwhelming physical gifts to make life hard for Phoenix. Towns will likely be guarded by Bismack Biyombo and see double-teams from long, rangy wings in Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson; that should open cutting lanes for Jaden McDaniels, Edwards and the like, while creating open 3s for Beasley (believe!) and company. If the Wolves can shoot closer to 35% than 25%, we’ll see a competitive game.
Thankfully for the Wolves, while their bench unit will play heavier minutes, they should be well rested.
Jaylen Nowell played 29 minutes and will be sharing the main playmaking duties with Edwards, which will be a great growth opportunity for both of them, regardless of what the final scoreboard reads by the end of the night.
The backup lead guard role is one the Wolves may look to address at the deadline, but Nowell could very well continue to earn if he plays well moving forward, especially on a night where the Wolves are in need of what he does best in support of Edwards on the perimeter.
Taurean Prince should play heavy minutes tonight, but played only 16 minutes last night and shouldn’t have too difficult of a matchup tonight in Johnson, who has filled in admirably for Crowder during his absence.
His shooting has improved of late with his increased playing time, and you can expect him to be more aggressive on offense, especially shooting from 3. As a veteran leader, he’ll be looked to as the low-man in the Wolves’ high-wall defensive scheme against one of the most unselfish teams in the NBA.
McDaniels’ scoring and perimeter defense will be a key to the game. With Jarred Vanderbilt banged up but playing through it, McDaniels will be relied upon heavily to step up on both ends.
If he can play closer to how he did last night (14 points on 3/5 3PT shooting, four rebounds and one foul guarding the opposition’s best player in 33 minutes) than on Tuesday (three points on 1/6 shooting, three fouls in 16 minutes), the Wolves will be in it in the fourth quarter if Edwards and Towns play up to par.
Phoenix comes into tonight winners of their last eight, despite the absence of Ayton; Monty Williams’ team plays cohesive, aesthetically pleasing ball on both ends with an evident trust in one another that has served well role players forced to play bigger roles. When CP3 is behind the wheel and Booker co-piloting a smooth operation, the Suns are a tough cover. However, I do not have much faith in their depth.
Behind Booker’s 43 points and 21 from Paul, the Suns beat a Jazz team without Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert by eight points after being up north of 20 points. They got just 41 points from the other seven players who suited up. Minnesota has more depth available outside of Towns and Edwards available, and I think 7.5 points is entirely too many considering the circumstances, despite Minnesota playing on a back-to-back.
Whether the Wolves win remains to be seen, but with McDaniels and Vanderbilt both active and playing tonight, I feel better about those two guarding Paul and Booker than I do about Biyombo and Bridges guarding Towns and Edwards.
Tonight's @MayoClinic Status Report:— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) January 29, 2022
Jarred Vanderbilt and Jaylen Nowell are AVAILABLE.
D'Angelo Russell (Left Shin Contusion) and Patrick Beverley (Right Ankle Sprain) are OUT vs. Phoenix. pic.twitter.com/kNEG6slfY1
As I mentioned at the top, Russell and Beverley are out for Minnesota, while Ayton, Crowder, McGee, Kaminsky, and Payne remain sidelined for Phoenix.
I tweet out a gambling pick before every Wolves game over on my Twitter @jrborman13. So far this season, I am 25-22 (53%).
Tonight’s play: Wolves +7.5
I laid it out above, but Minnesota is better equipped to slow down Phoenix’s star duo than the Suns are to slow down the Wolves’ star duo.
Towns is learning patient in the post and adjusting throughout games to make plays for others when doubled (or tripled) in the post, and I think tonight is a night the bench players come through for him knowing they’ll get significant run without Russell and Beverley.