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Game Preview #75: Mavs at Wolves

The Wolves look to avenge Monday’s loss in Dallas with a much-needed win against the Mavs in Downtown Minneapolis.

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

Game Info

Who: Dallas Mavericks (45-28) at Minnesota Timberwolves (42-32)
When: 7:00pm CST
TV: Bally Sports North
Radio: 830 WCCO AM Radio
Line: Wolves -3 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)



What To Watch For

A Rested Star

The Dallas Mavericks ride into Minneapolis with a major advantage over the Minnesota Timberwolves: Luka Dončić — who is carrying a whopping 37.6% usage rate in 36.5 minutes per game since the All-Star Game — is playing after three days rest following the Mavs’ win over Minnesota in Dallas on Monday night.

A fresh Dončić is exactly what the Wolves would be hoping to avoid in the middle of an intense playoff push, but it is a byproduct of the scheduling disadvantage the Wolves are operating against.

Entering tonight, the Wolves have the 14th most difficult remaining schedule in the NBA, while the Mavs come in at 20th, with Denver Nuggets behind them at 25th.

No matter how you slice it, it’s a tough, uphill climb for the Wolves. Securing the No. 6 seed would be a massive victory for Minnesota head coach Chris Finch’s team, but seems extremely unlikely at this stage. Despite that, Basketball Reference gives Minnesota a 91.5% chance to advance through the play-in tournament to the playoffs.

Pick-and-Roll Defense

Dončić will play the Devin Booker role tonight like he did on Monday, picking apart the Wolves aggressive pick-and-roll defense.

Thankfully for Minnesota, Dwight Powell isn’t remotely close to the level of passer that Deandre Ayton is. The chances of Powell being used as an offensive hub that Dallas can play through in the half court, like Ayton was down the stretch on Wednesday, are low. He had two assists on Monday night and only one of them was in the middle of the floor.

Expect another heavy dose of Dončić/Powell PnR while flanked by corner shooters in Dorian Finney-Smith (44.7% corner 3-point shooter) and Reggie Bullock (39.7%).

More than half of Dallas’s shots on Monday were 3’s (55.4%), with 23% of the total shot mix coming from the corners, on which the Mavs shot 36.8%, below their season average of 38.5%. Considering more than half of those 19 3s were wide open looks, I expect Jason Kidd’s group to shoot it much better tonight if they get those same looks.

Minnesota played drop coverage for the first half on Monday before switching up looks and being more aggressive with Dončić in the second half — a good adjustment. The Wolves made up ground during stretches of Patrick Beverley pressing up on Dončić and Anthony Edwards stepping into the batter’s box against Dončić and holding his own getting over screens for stops.

Watch for Minnesota to be physical with Dončić and force the ball out of his hands. If Dallas’s crew of high-end role players outside of Luka can beat them, so be it. Beverley and Edwards are as competitive and prideful players and I fully expect them to take it upon themselves to slow Dončić down.

Forward Rotation

One of my favorite developments in the absence of Jaden McDaniels has been Finch’s creativity in replacing McDaniels’ minutes with three-guard lineups in games that are tough matchups for Jarred Vanderbilt.

Finch this week has turned to lineups featuring three of Jordan McLaughlin, Jaylen Nowell, D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley alongside Naz Reid and Taurean Prince.

Phoenix Suns v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

The ball handler in these lineups, which has switched off between McLaughlin, Nowell and Russell, receives a ball screen from Reid on nearly every single possession before either looking to score in the mid-range or inside, or kicking to one of Beasley or Prince in the corner for 3.

The key question for these lineups is defense, since they can create a good shot nearly every trip down the floor.

In the last two games, the lineup of McLaughlin, Russell, Nowell, Prince and Reid has played seven minutes (extremely small sample size!), but has turned in an offensive rating of 130.8 on 71.5% TS with impressive playmaking to match.

Every basket this crew has scored has been assisted and they have an assist-to-turnover ratio of 5-to-1. On the other end, this group holds a defensive rating of 128.6 and haven’t allowed an offensive rebound.

A +2.2 net rating is pretty solid against two of the Western Conference’s top five teams and warrants some run tonight. I’m excited to see if Finch sticks with this group tonight as a bridge between the second unit and starters early in the second and fourth quarters.

If Finch goes in a different direction, keep an eye on how much run Vanderbilt gets. Dallas is a touch matchup for him because of how much they loaded up on Karl-Anthony Towns on Monday. I expect Kidd to roll out another game plan centered on that, which means the lack of spacing Vanderbilt provides could again create issues. Playoff defense is more likely to focus on taking away Towns, suggesting that Vanderbilt’s presence on the floor could prove hard to justify in certain moments if he isn’t playing lockdown defense and rebounding at the peak of his powers.

Prince played well in spurts on Monday and Wednesday, but ultimately shot his way out of the game in the second half against Phoenix after making a couple of shots early on. Minnesota will have more options at its disposal tonight against a primarily five-out Mavs team.

Atlanta Hawks v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

McDaniels really came on strong offensively just before he got hurt, making his injury all the more unfortunate given the late stages of the season. Finch hasn’t been able to replace that production and floor spacing — coupled with very versatile defense — without sacrificing on one end of the floor.

Thankfully the Wolves have some time to try and figure it out with a stretch of playoff teams on the schedule, but it’s tough to build a plane in the air while enduring turbulent conditions.


It will be another near-capacity crowd tonight at a Target Center filled with Wolves fans grateful for the opportunity to support meaningful NBA basketball in late March. Everyone coming out of the home locker room tonight knows it’s a must-win tonight for the Wolves, who are running out of time to make up ground on those in front of them.

As the weight of every game grows, so does the adversity for a young team hungry to prove it belongs in the same class as the NBA’s elite. Tonight is another chance for the Wolves to do just that.


Status Reports

Minnesota

OUT:

  • Jaden McDaniels (high left ankle sprain
  • McKinley Wright IV (two-way assignment)

Dallas

OUT:

  • Davis Bertans (right knee soreness)
  • Sterling Brown (health and safety protocols)
  • Tim Hardaway Jr. (left foot surgery)
  • Trey Burke (non-COVID illness)
  • Theo Pinson (finger fracture)
  • Moses Wright (two-way assignment)

Gambling Pick

I tweet out a gambling pick before most Wolves games over on my Twitter @jrborman13. So far this season, I am 32-34 (48%).

Tonight’s play: Dwight Powell over 10.5 points (line courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook).

  • Had 22 points against Minnesota on Monday
  • Over 10.5 in five of his last seven games
  • Will roll a ton no matter which defensive coverage Minnesota plays
  • If Minnesota plays more high-wall, he’ll have more offensive rebounding opportunities

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