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Game Preview #24: Wolves vs. Pacers

Indiana is set to play on the second night of a road/road back-to-back, and may be without star point guard Tyrese Haliburton as they battle Edwards, Towns, Gobert and Co.

Indiana Pacers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert and the Minnesota Timberwolves return home to Target Center for a Saturday night showdown with the Indiana Pacers, who are playing on the second night of a back-to-back and the third time in four nights.

Indiana could be without star point guard Tyrese Haliburton, who suffered a knee contusion in the second half of Friday night’s 137-123 loss to the Washington Wizards and did not return.


Game Info

  • Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (18-5) vs Indiana Pacers (13-10)
  • When: Saturday, December 16 at 7:00 PM CT
  • Where: Target Center
  • TV: Bally Sports North (Michael Grady, Jim Petersen and Lea B. Olsen)
  • Radio: KFAN 100.3 FM, Wolves Radio App
  • Line: Wolves -9.5 | Total: 241.5 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)

Injury Report

Updated as of Saturday at 5:40 PM CT

Indiana

QUESTIONABLE:

  • Kendall Brown (two-way contract)
  • Oscar Tshiebwe (two-way contract)
  • Isaiah Wong (two-way contract)

OUT:

  • Tyrese Haliburton (left knee bruise)
  • Andrew Nembhard (right knee bone bruse)
  • Jalen Smith (left knee bone bruise, left heel contusion)

Minnesota

QUESTIONABLE:

  • Anthony Edwards (right hip pointer)

OUT:

  • Jaylen Clark (right achilles tendon rupture rehab)
  • Luka Garza (two-way contract)
  • Leonard Miller (G League assignment)
  • Daishen Nix (two-way contract)

What To Watch For

Indiana Pacers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Tyrese Haliburton’s Status

The Pacers’ All-Star floor general cast doubt over his availability for Saturday night’s game with his postgame comments on Friday night in Washington, D.C.

“I’m fine. I’m just banged up a little bit. There was a little wet spot on the floor. I landed on my hip. That’s fine, but me and Bilal (Coulibaly) went knee-to-knee, so just a little sore right now,” Haliburton told the Indianapolis Star’s Dustin Dopirak, who added that Haliburton said he didn’t know if he’ll be available for tomorrow.

Dopirak added that, despite the Pacers saying Haliburton was available to return, Indiana Head Coach Rick Carlisle said Haliburton told him he couldn’t go.

Indiana is 1-1 without Haliburton this season, with the win coming on the road over the Miami Heat. TJ McConnell and Bruce Brown combined for 50 points in that victory, which will likely be much harder to come by against the top defense in the NBA.

The Pacers’ half-court offense is likely to take a major nosedive if Haliburton is unable to play. Indiana’s offensive rating in the half-court is 9.7 points per 100 possessions better with Haliburton on the floor compared to with him on the bench (91st percentile, per Cleaning the Glass). A key part of that is due to the efficient shots Haliburton creates for himself and his teammates. While the Pacers’ mid-range shot rate rises by 8.5% with Haliburton off the floor (first percentile !!), that could be problematic for the Wolves if they play drop coverage. Indiana shoots 50.1% in the mid-range, which ranks first in the NBA. Minnesota holds opponents to 39.2% on middies (third in the NBA), so whether or not the game is close could very well come down to how the Pacers choose to attack the Wolves’ defense. It’s safe to say there won’t be as many above the break 3-pointers, where 42% (about seven per game) of Haliburton’s 17.5 nightly shot attempts come from.

With or without Haliburton, the key for the Pacers is playing at a breakneck pace — 104.6 with him on (would be first in NBA) , 102.8 with him off (would be third) — to fuel easy offense for them in transition — where Indiana scores 17.3 PPG (first) — and in the paint, where they also score the most points per game (59.6) league-wide. While the opportunity to attack the offensive glass will certainly be tempting against a team that ranks 27th in defensive rebounding rate (68.3%), Minnesota will need to maintain a good balance of also getting back in transition so they can force the Indiana to play against a set defense.


Minnesota Timberwolves v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images

Another Big Night for the Jersey Boys?

Indiana allows the most points per game to power forwards in the entire NBA. That shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that Obi Toppin, one of the worst defenders in the NBA, starts at the 4 for them.

But lately, Indiana has turned to a couple of shooters — 6-foot-4 Buddy Hield and 6-foot-5 Aaron Nesmith — to guard bigger wings and forwards. Nesmith and Hield combined to guard Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo for 65.6% of his minutes on the floor on Wednesday, when Giannis dropped a career-high 64 points, which included 24 of 32 (!) shooting at the free throw line. The pair then on Friday night split the primary duties guarding Kyle Kuzma, who scored 31 points on 11/23 FG (47.8%). Go back another week and change, and you can add a 36-point outing for Jimmy Butler, a 34-point performance from Jerami Grant, 36 and 10 from Pascal Siakam, another 24 from Paolo Banchero, and another 54 from Giannis.

While Hield and Nesmith can slide their feet, they, along with the rest of the Pacers, have struggled to defend without fouling against more physical forward matchups. You can’t even really blame them considering what the Pacers are asking them to do. I would expect KAT and Naz to both be extremely active drivers playing off the catch to make it difficult on the interior of the Indiana defense. If they can get past the first line of defense, they’ll meet Myles Turner, one of the league’s best shot blockers; but Turner often steps up to meet drivers, which could open up the opportunity for dump-offs or lobs to Rudy Gobert for easy dunks inside — especially if Indiana’s rather poor low-man help continues

It’s safe to say that Towns and Reid, who combined for 48 points in the Timberwolves’ 119-101 win over the Dallas Mavericks, should again be prominently featured on Saturday to help take some pressure off of Anthony Edwards as he works his way back from a right hip pointer. Edwards scored just nine points on 3/19 shooting in his return on Thursday, but did record a career-high-tying 11 assists.

Beyond them, if Toppin guards Jaden McDaniels, don’t be surprised if the Wolves continue to go to the McDaniels well for supplementary scoring once again. Jaden has scored in double figures in both games since his return from an ankle sprain, and has not lacked confidence in attacking smaller or stiffer defenders off the dribble.