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Game Preview #56: Wolves at Bulls

Old friends meet again as the Wolves’ road trip rolls into the Windy City

Chicago Bulls v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Game Info

Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (29-26) at Chicago Bulls (34-21)
When: 7:10 pm CST
TV: Bally Sports North / NBA League Pass
Radio: 830 WCCO AM Radio
Line: Wolves +1.5 | O/U 242.5



What to Watch For

It will be an offensive space race tonight at the house that Jordan built in downtown Chicago. Minnesota boasts the league’s top offense (124 points per game) over the last 10 games, while the Bulls’ 119.5 PPG has them on the podium in the third spot. Two offensive juggernauts will surely put on a show, but Wolves fans hope Chicago native Patrick Beverley has something to say about that in his homecoming.

Wolves

Chris Finch’s squad has taken the fourth-most 3s in the league in that period (connecting at a 39.1% clip, also fourth in the league), with a heavy emphasis on driving and kicking among its bench unit, driven by Jordan McLaughlin, one of the most well-loved players on the team by his peers.

Since the turn of the new year, McLaughlin has registered 47 assists and one turnover. One. 1. Uno. That’s just a ridiculously impactful streak of playmaking we’ve only seen on a handful of stretches in league history. McLaughlin’s backcourt running mate on the bench, Jaylen Nowell, has registered an impressive 49 assists to 13 turnovers. (For my money, the dynamic guard duo also has the best collective shoe game on the team).

The reliably effective dual engine for a resurgent Wolves bench has delivered combined 96 dimes and 14 giveaways, good for a ratio of 6.86, in a 20-game stretch in which Minnesota has gone 13-7. Perhaps what is most eye-opening about their dishing and swishing (s/o the legend Clyde Fraizer) is that J-Mac and Nowell have each assisted on more 3s than 2s.

That nugget is important because they have played a huge role in Malik Beasley’s 3-point resurgence. Beasley is shooting 38.6% on 7.3 3-point attempts per game since the new year, and a more impressive 48.1% on 7.7 triggers per night over the last seven games.

In general, the Wolves are creating many more open 3s. As a team, Minnesota has assisted on 240 made 3s, good for third in the league over the last 10 games. Ball movement is a huge part of this team’s offensive rebirth in the half court and rim pressure has a ton to do with it. As Anthony Edwards continues to learn more advanced brush strokes while painting his half court canvas, those 3-point looks will continue to improve for the starters, too.

Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago’s impressive rookie and lead bench guard (who holds an impressive 5:1 A:TO ratio over the last 10 games himself, is questionable with a concussion that kept him out of the Bulls’ win over the Hornets in Charlotte on Wednesday night. If he can’t go, it will be imperative that the Wolves’ bench, driven by the playmaking of McLaughlin and Nowell, continue to dominate offensively; the second unit failed to do so in Sacramento on Wednesday and paid the price.

Chicago Bulls v Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

Bulls

When your team’s wings consist of one of the NBA’s middy kings and one of the league’s most talented shooters off the dribble, your team is probably going to have a pretty diverse shot profile.

That’s the case for Billy Donovan’s group, who have been fueled by the NBA’s most potent scoring duo in DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, who are averaging 27.4 and 24.9 PPG, placing them sixth and 14th, respectively, on the NBA’s scoring leaderboard.

Chicago scores the largest percentage of its points in the mid-range in the NBA this season (14.6%) and the fourth-lowest chunk of its points from deep (30.1%). What ties the two together, though, is that the Bulls are excellent shooting from both locations; they rank third in mid-range shooting (45.2%) and second in 3-point shooting (38.0%). The team’s scoring gravity in the mid-range creates open 3s for them; the way they collapse defenses is pretty different from a Wolves team that is somewhat reliant upon getting to the rim for open 3-point looks.

A major force behind that is the team’s focus on getting the ball to the elbows. DeRozan and starting center Nikola Vucevic are both extremely comfortable operating from the nail and elbows as not only scorers, but playmakers as well. The Bulls rank seventh in the league in elbow touches per game, and consequently are excellent at creating corner 3s, on which they shoot 42.9%, tops in the league. Over the last three weeks, Chicago ranks third in the NBA with 88 corner 3 assists, trailing only Miami (95) and Dallas (94).

That is problematic, considering that Minnesota has struggled to defend corner 3s. The Wolves are 19th in corner 3-point percentage allowed on the season (38.7%) and have allowed the second most corner 3s in the league (12.6% of opposing shot attempts). Outside of rim attempts and free throws, corner 3s are the most efficient shot in basketball, and the Wolves are continually surrendering efficient shot attempts. Only Charlotte has a worse defensive shot profile in terms of expected opponent eFG% this season.

Even with Chicago down Lonzo Ball (meniscus tear), Alex Caruso (wrist fracture), Derrick Jones Jr. (finger fracture) and Patrick Williams (wrist ligament tear), their offense has kept humming, largely because of the unrelenting dominance of DeRozan and LaVine, who have been adeptly complemented by Vucevic and Dosunmu.

Dosunmu missing would be a big loss, as he has become the team’s most reliable playmaker in the absence of Ball. If he can’t go, expect Vucevic to be used an offensive hub in the high and low posts that will step out to the aid DeRozan and LaVine in the hand-off game. Coby White figures to get a good share of minutes as well, but hasn’t been very effective in most of his minutes this season, especially on the defensive end of the floor.

The Wolves, essentially completely healthy, have no excuse to lose this game if Dosunmu can’t go. Even with Dosunmu, they should win this game.


Status Reports

Minnesota

OUT:

  • McKinley Wright IV (left UCL injury)

Chicago

PROBABLE:

  • Nikola Vucevic (left hip contusion)

QUESTIONABLE:

  • Ayo Dosunmu (concusion)

OUT:

  • Lonzo Ball (left meniscus tear)
  • Alex Caruso (fractured right wrist)
  • Derrick Jones Jr. (fractured right index finger)
  • Patrick Williams (left wrist ligament tear)

Gambling Pick

I tweet out a gambling pick before every Wolves game over on my Twitter @jrborman13. So far this season, I am 27-27 (50%).

Tonight’s play: Wolves +1.5

  • Wolves are fully healthy, while the Bulls are without four key members of their rotation
  • Chicago will likely play a nine-man rotation
  • Towns has dominated against Vucevic in his career. He has had a double-double in every game against Vucevic since the 2016-17 season and has scored 27+ points in three straight games against him.
  • Minnesota has the length to slow down DeRozan and LaVine in McDaniels, Vanderbilt, and Edwards, and the defensive intensity and skill of a player like Beverley will be useful against a team without many options outside of those two.