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Game Preview #30: Wolves vs. Mavericks

Anthony Edwards and the Timberwolves look to again bounce back after a loss, this time against the Dallas Mavericks, who may be without Luka Dončić on the second night of a road-road back-to-back.

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

The Minnesota Timberwolves return home to Target Center for a two-game home stand looking to close out the calendar year strong. Tonight they take on the Dallas Mavericks.


Game Info

  • Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (22-7) vs. Dallas Mavericks (18-13)
  • When: Thursday, December 28th at 7:00 PM CT
  • Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • TV: Bally Sports North
  • Radio: Wolves App Radio, iHeart Radio
  • Line: Wolves -12.5 | Total: 227 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)

Injury Report

Updated as of 2:30 PM CT on Thursday

Minnesota

QUESTIONABLE:

  • Karl-Anthony Towns (left knee soreness)

OUT:

  • Jaylen Clark (right achilles tendon rupture rehab)
  • Leonard Miller (G-League assignment)
  • Wendell Moore Jr. (G-League assignment)

Dallas

OUT:

  • Luka Dončić (left quad soreness)
  • Kyrie Irving (right heel contusion)
  • Maxi Kleber (right small toe dislocation)
  • Greg Brown III (G League assignment)

What to Watch For

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

Defense Against Luka Dončić (if he plays)

(Editor’s Note: Marc Stein reported that Dončić will miss tonight’s game about an hour after this article was published.)

The question for the Wolves, as it is with any team that goes up against the Mavericks, is how to slow down Luka Dončić. The initial answer for the Wolves will be Jaden McDaniels, but considering Jaden’s propensity to foul opposing players, and Luka’s ability to draw fouls, the Wolves may need to find other options in case of foul trouble.

One player that the Wolves may look to guard Dončić is Kyle Anderson. Slo-Mo has consistently shown the ability to guard bigger, slower players who are more likely to use their strength to get into advantageous positions on the court.

Dončić fits this description perfectly as speed is not the primary factor that makes him such a prolific player. Slo-Mo should be a good option to defend Dončić as he has a similar combination of strength and speed, or lack thereof, to stay in front of Dončić without fouling.

The Wolves will also look to Anthony Edwards in spurts to guard Luka, but will also want to save his energy for the offensive end. Nickeil Alexander-Walker is often the defender off the bench the Wolves look to, but given Luka’s size, NAW may be a bit out-matched.

All of this assumes that Dončić plays in the game, which is far from certain given the Mavericks played yesterday on the road against the Cleveland Cavaliers with Dončić originally questionable for that game with left quad soreness.

Dončić did play in that game but may be more likely to miss a game on the second night of a back-to-back after playing 36.5 minutes the day before. If Dončić is unable to play, that will significantly change the Wolves defensive plan as the main offensive creator, and one of the best players in the NBA would be missing for Dallas.

With Kyrie Irving likely missing the game as well with a heel contusion he suffered on December 8, it is hard to see where Dallas would be able to generate enough offense to win without their two superstar guards.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Bouncing Back After a Loss

The Wolves are the only team in the NBA that has not lost two consecutive games this season. After a 129-106 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday, that will again be put to the test on Thursday against the Mavericks.

The Wolves defense left a lot to be desired against the Thunder as OKC was able to get a good shot seemingly whenever they wanted. The Wolves defensive rotations were behind all night, which has normally been something they have excelled at this year.

As rare as they’ve been this season, each time the Wolves have had a disappointing outing, they’ve come back the next and shown why they have the best record in the Western Conference.

In the six games following a loss this season, the Wolves have an average margin of victory of 14.2 points per game with opponents averaging a measly 101.3 points per game against the Wolves defense.

One of those wins came on December 14th against the Mavericks. In that game, the Mavericks came out of the gates scorching hot going on a 17-2 run to start the game. Luka scored 16 first-quarter points, and finished the game with 39.

The Wolves were able to go on a few runs of their own, eventually tying the game up in the second quarter and pulling away in the fourth. The Wolves won the game 119-101 in what was one of their better road wins so far this season.

If Dončić and/or Irving do play tonight, the Wolves starting off the game strong, unlike the first game, may be able to break the Mavericks early as this is their second road game in as many nights.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Karl-Anthony Towns’ Availability

After missing a game due to a knee injury, Towns returned on Tuesday against the Thunder. He is again questionable for tonight’s game after being a game-time decision against OKC. Towns did participate in shootaround on Thursday morning, according to Underdog NBA. If Towns is unable to play, Kyle Anderson would likely join the starting lineup as he did the last time Towns was out.

If Towns can play, it will be interesting to see how close to 100% he looks. Against OKC on Tuesday, he seemed a step or two slower than he has most of this season. While his offensive numbers look fine, scoring 16 points on 5-10 shooting, his defense was less than spectacular.

On Tuesday, Towns was consistently missing rotations on defense and seemed to lack the burst when going to the rim that he usually has. Now, that’s not to pick on KAT, as he was far from the only one who not have a good defensive night, but he will have to show defensive improvement for the Wolves to continue beating the top Western Conference teams.

If KAT does play tonight against Dallas, something to monitor will be if his knee injury is still bothering him, or if Tuesday’s poor defensive performance was just a one-off for both him and this Timberwolves team.