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Game Preview #31: Wolves vs Mavericks

Minnesota Timberwolves v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Game Info

What To Watch For

Dallas Mavericks v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Who Guards Luka Dončić?

Luka Dončić is the alpha and omega for this Dallas Mavericks team, and for good reason. He’s playing at an MVP level, but his usage rate of 37% is approaching historically high status. Everything that the Mavericks do runs through him, which makes who his defensive assignment will be that much more intriguing.

Gut reaction says to not over think it and just put Jaden McDaniels, the Timberwolves’ best defender, on Dončić. That feels wrong, though, not because McDaniels can’t do a suitable job, but because there are better options. Let’s run through why McDaniels shouldn’t be the option first. Dončić is highly adept at drawing fouls, and McDaniels is addicted to committing fouls. Not a great start. More importantly, though, McDaniels is the Timberwolves’ best off-ball defender. His awareness, mobility, and length are attributes that no one else on this team has. When facing a playmaker like Dončić, McDaniels will likely serve far more good defending off-ball than on-ball.

The main candidates for who should defend Dončić fall to Anthony Edwards and Kyle Anderson. We’ll likely see a rotating cast on who defends Dončić, but these two should be the primary options. All season, Edwards has held his own as an on-ball defender. He’s proven he can move his feet and play physical. It also doesn’t expose his lackluster off-ball defense to Dončić’s playmaking. Edwards has the strength to handle Dončić, and it will immediately get him involved in the game. Anderson isn’t the typical choice to be the point-of-attack defender, but Dončić relies more on craft and strength rather than speed. Anderson has the strength, experience, and guile to stay with Dončić. There really isn’t any way to completely shut down Dončić, but by putting Anderson and/or Edwards on him to start, the Timberwolves can better focus on not allowing anyone else on the team to get going.

Minnesota Timberwolves v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Who is Playing Center?

We already know that Karl-Anthony Towns is out, but the rest of the roster is a major question mark. Rudy Gobert remains questionable, Naz Reid is listed as probable after exiting the game against the Chicago Bulls, and Nathan Knight and Luka Garza are eagerly awaiting any minutes they are afforded.

For the Mavericks, Maxi Kleber is out, and Dwight Powell is questionable. That leaves JaVale McGee, who is averaging nine minutes in 19 games, as the only healthy center on the roster. Seeing massive McGee minutes would be a surprise tonight, so it is more likely that we see a tremendous amount of small ball.

Players like Christian Wood and Dorian Finney-Smith will likely play the bulk of the minutes in the front court for the Mavericks. This will stretch the Timberwolves’ defense out more, but the mobility of Reid, Knight, McDaniels, Anderson, and everyone else should be able to cope just fine. This lack of size for the Mavericks also creates a substantial opportunity on the offensive glass for the Timberwolves. The Mavericks get the bulk of their defensive rebounding support from their back court as Dončić has the highest defensive rebounding rate on the team at 21.1, and Spencer Dinwiddie is third (excluding McGee based on minutes) at 10.5. Wood is the only forward on the team who ranks above the 40th percentile in defensive rebounding rate. Whether Gobert plays or not, there should be ample opportunities for the Timberwolves to crash the glass and wear down the Mavericks.

Chicago Bulls v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Play with Pace and Attack the Rim

The Mavericks’ lack of size also leaves them vulnerable to interior scoring. So far this season, the Mavericks are allowing opponents to shoot 69.2% at the rim (26th). The Timberwolves must maximize their size and athleticism to pressure the rim as frequently as possible. Once they get there, there isn’t much opposition to face.

Additionally, the Mavericks have been one of the worst transition defenses in the league off of misses where they rank 21st, allowing 1.235 points per play, per Synergy Sports. The Mavericks have been in a bit of a shooting slump recently as well. Over their last five games, they’ve shot 34.6% from three (19th) and 44.6% from the floor (25th). There should be plenty of opportunities for the Timberwolves to get easy buckets. As long as they stay disciplined on defense, pressure the rim, and don’t commit unnecessary turnovers, they should put themselves in a great spot at the end of the game.

Injury Report

Minnesota Timberwolves

  • D’Angelo Russell: PROBABLE — knee contusion
  • Karl-Anthony Towns: OUT — calf strain
  • Rudy Gobert: QUESTIONABLE — ankle sprain
  • Taurean Prince: OUT — right shoulder subluxation
  • Jordan McLaughlin: OUT — left calf strain
  • Naz Reid: PROBABLE — trapezius tightness

Dallas Mavericks

  • Davis Bertans: AVAILABLE - illness
  • Luka Dončić: AVAILABLE - quadricep strain
  • Tyler Dorsey: OUT - two way
  • Josh Green: OUT - elbow sprain
  • Tim Hardaway Jr: QUESTIONABLE - illness
  • Jaden Hardy: OUT - on assignment
  • Maxi Kleber: OUT - hamstring tear
  • Dwight Powell: QUESTIONABLE - thigh contusion
  • McKinley Wright IV: OUT - two way