- Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (17-21) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (19-17)
- When: 7:00 PM CT
- Local TV: Bally Sports North (Michael Grady, Jim Petersen and Katie Storm)
- Radio: 830 WCCO-AM
- Line: Wolves +1.5 | Total: 235 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
Wednesdays are for the Wolves.— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) January 4, 2023
Wolves vs Blazers
7pm CT, @TargetCenterMN
Preview » https://t.co/TCp2LaWKkx pic.twitter.com/XqFjtNy5mt
What To Watch For
Performance Post-Players-Only Meeting
No one knows the exact details the players discussed behind closed doors after the Wolves’ loss to the Detroit Pistons. Effort and execution were probably an area of frustration.
The newfound motivation showed up in the team’s last game against the Denver Nuggets. The Wolves put Kyle Anderson on Nuggets’ center Nikola Jokić and allowed Gobert to roam, and the strategy worked for the most part. Jokic “only” had 24 points and nine assists, which is relatively tame compared to other stat lines he’s put up.
The ball movement was a strong point as well (29 assists). Anthony Edwards had a 29-point outing and continued his high level of play.
But the team has seen bursts of great play only to fall back into their old habits: turning the ball over, bad shot selection, and poor rebounding. Maintaining their level of play will always be the question for this Wolves squad until they prove otherwise, and that applies to their rematch against the Trailblazers.
Guarding Lillard and Simons
The Wolves had two matchups in a row against the Trail Blazers early in December. In the first game, Damian Lillard scored 36 points. His backcourt duo, Anfernee Simons, added 31 points. Lillard followed his performance up two days later with 38 points and 11 3s, a franchise record.
Lillard and Simons are some of the best pull-up 3-point shooters in the league. The Wolves run drop coverage, which can concede jumpers to the ball handlers. However, the answer isn’t to change the scheme. Even if the Wolves adjust to send the big to the level of the screen, Lillard can slice up a center that steps up on a screen to take away his jumper as he does here to Naz Reid.
Sometimes the adjustment is to play better. NBA offenses are adept at attacking any coverage a defense throws at them. The key is defensive execution and also disguising the coverage, so the reads for the offense aren’t automatic.
In terms of execution, the primary defenders on Lillard and Simons must fight over the top of screens to force them within the arc and funnel them toward Gobert. If they do shoot the ball, the player needs to rearview contest and make the shot difficult.
Whoever is the drop defender needs to have active hands to disrupt the ball handler and keep the player in front to allow their trailing teammate to get back into the play.
The other component is to make sure the other players for the Blazers don’t find a rhythm by containing pick-and-roll to a two-on-two situation and not bringing extra help.
The alternative to drop is putting two players on the ball. A hedge-and-recover scheme opens up the short roll, and Blazers’ center Jusuf Nurkic is a solid passer in those spots. He helps connect Lillard and Simons’ scoring gravity into opportunities for teammates. It’s imperative the Wolves rotate and closeout well to eliminate those advantages for the offense.
How Will Increased Load Wear on the Wolves?
The Wolves have been banged up through the month of December and into the New Year. Not only do the injuries impact the hurt players themselves, but also the players that have to increase their minute load due to absences.
Edwards has had a strong stretch of games since his 37-point performance against the Chicago Bulls. He’s scored 23 points or above in his last nine games and 30 or more on four of those occasions.
Edwards has also shouldered a heavy minute load with the multitude of injuries. He hasn’t played less than 36 minutes in that same nine-game stretch.
Jaden McDaniels hasn’t played as much as Edwards, but has been playing around 30 minutes a night. He probably would’ve played more if it weren’t for foul trouble in certain games. McDaniels doesn’t have the highest offensive load, but he guards the opposing team’s best player, which is a draining task in itself.
Edwards and McDaniels are crucial cogs for the Wolves on both ends. If either of them takes a step back in performance or misses time on top of those who are already out, the Wolves could go on another multiple-game losing streak.
The team could have help on the way. The Wolves elevated Tauren Prince to questionable. Prince hasn’t played since Nov. 23. He can provide some wing depth and stability. The team has gotten decent production out of two-way player Luka Garza and reserve center Nathan Knight, but Prince will give the Wolves some more versatility on defense.
For now, the Wolves chug along as the season hits its midpoint and hope they can have enough health to crawl back into the playoff picture.
- Bryn Forbes (right shoulder soreness)
- Taurean Prince (right shoulder subluxation)
- Naz Reid (back spasms)
- Jordan McLaughlin (left calf strain)
- Karl-Anthony Towns (right calf strain)
- Gary Payton II (right ankle sprain)
- Nassir Little (Right femoral head impaction fracture)
- Jusuf Nurkic (non-Covid illness)
- Justise Winslow (left ankle sprain)