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Game Preview #70: Wolves at Spurs

Karl-Anthony Towns leads his Timberwolves into San Antonio for a face-off with Gregg Popovich’s Spurs.

San Antonio Spurs v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Game Info

Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (39-30) at San Antonio Spurs (26-42)
When: 7:30pm CST
TV: Bally Sports North
Radio: 830 WCCO AM Radio
Line: Wolves -3.5 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)


The San Antonio Spurs are hosting the Minnesota Timberwolves for the teams’ second matchup of the season — coming nearly four months after a 25-point Wolves’ victory in Minneapolis.


What To Watch For

How the Spurs defend Karl-Anthony Towns

The Spurs are a slightly different team than they were when they were blown out of the Target Center. Only two players that started in that game on the Spurs’ active roster tonight (Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson), while usual starting center Jakob Poeltl was on a minutes restriction in his first game back after battling COVID-19. Drew Eubanks, who was the primary defender on Towns for most of the night, is now a member of the Portland Trail Blazers.

When Poeltl entered into the game, he checked Towns. It did not go well for him.

The three-time All-Star scored eight points on 3/4 shooting and 2/2 from the free throw line in the eight possessions Poeltl guaded him. Towns didn’t even need to shoot 3s because he was having such an easy time blowing by Poeltl and scoring on him.

Poeltl is obviously in better shape now, but Towns remains an incredibly tough cover for a post-up, rim defender like Poeltl whose feet aren’t exactly the quickest in the NBA.

As you can see here, the Austrian native is so used to sinking down into the paint that he has to overreact in closing out to Towns once he realizes that KAT stays above the break as a trailer. This creates an easy pump-and-go opportunity for Towns, who scores easily.

Towns had very few post-ups in this game against Poeltl and it was a key factor behind why he was both very successful and why Gregg Popovich decided to put Johnson, a Tokyo Olympic gold medalist, on Towns. San Antonio had more success with that matchup, as KAT scored only five points on four shots in the 17 possessions with Johnson as his primary defender, according to NBA stats.

The question for Minnesota is who Pop puts on Towns. If it’s Poeltl, expect more of what we saw in November. Isolations above the break, guard-to-big screens to get favorable matchups, and Towns driving a ton. If it’s Johnson (I bet it will be), Minnesota may fall into the trap of wasting possessions by taking the first 12-14 seconds of the shot clock to enter the ball into Towns in the post to take advantage of the size mismatch.

If Towns doesn’t go quickly by either making a decisive scoring move or spraying the ball to shooters, San Antonio has a good chance to win considering they have lengthy wing defenders in Murray, newly-acquired Josh Richardson, and 2020 first-round pick Devin Vassell, who has been excellent for the Spurs this season.

How Chris Finch decides to deploy Towns on offense will seal the Wolves’ fate in a must-have game against an inferior opponent.

Wolves’ shooting defense and rebounding

Minnesota has largely been a good defensive team this season, especially with running 3-point shooters off the line. They will need to do that again without allowing easy opportunities in the paint as a result. San Antonio will be without marksman Doug McDermott, which certainly makes life easier on the Wolves, but they will get back their offensive engines in Murray and Johnson.

Both are shooting under 30% from deep in the Spurs last 10 games, but could be in for some progression to the mean as the Wolves have struggled to defend the 3 against teams who move the ball very well. San Antonio is first in assists this season with 28 per game and has gotten good shooting production from Richardson and Lonnie Walker IV, who are shooting above league average from 3 in the team’s last 10 games.

If Minnesota can keep a combination of Murray, Johnson, Richardson, Walker IV, and Vassell from scoring from downtown, while cleaning the glass, the Wolves should be in good position to come away with a victory.

San Antonio is 2-35 when they are out-shot in terms of field goal percentage and 6-30 when they get out-rebounded. Minnesota did both (47.7%-to-41.7% and 47-42) in the teams’ first meeting and will need to do the same again tonight to come away with a victory.

With no Jarred Vanderbilt and Naz Reid tonight, and Patrick Beverley questionable, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Taurean Prince and even Nathan Knight will need to play big roles in helping Towns keep the Spurs off the offensive glass.


Status Reports

Minnesota

OUT:

  • Jarred Vanderbilt (left quad contusion)
  • McKinley Wright IV (G-League assignment)
  • Naz Reid (back spasms)

ACTIVE:

  • Anthony Edwards (left patella tendinopathy)

GAME-TIME DECISION:

  • Patrick Beverley (ear injury)
  • Jordan McLaughlin (right groin tightness)

San Antonio

OUT:

  • Keita Bates-Diop (mid back soreness)
  • Devontae Cacok (left heel contusion)
  • Romeo Langford (right hamstring strain)
  • Doug McDermott (right ankle sprain)

ACTIVE:

  • Joe Wieskamp (congestion)

Gambling Pick

I tweet out a gambling pick before most Wolves games over on my Twitter @jrborman13. So far this season, I am 30-32 (48%).

Tonight’s play: Anthony Edwards over 3.5 assists (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)

  • Edwards has gone over 3.5 assists in five of his last six games
  • Edwards is averaging 7.0 potential assists per game in his last six games
  • His knee is feeling better and his driving has been more explosive of late, which will create more opportunities for shooters
  • Malik Beasley and Taurean Prince are playing more with the starters in the absences of Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt, giving Edwards better shooting options to pass to

Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation.