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Game Preview #20: Wolves vs. Spurs

Rudy Gobert and Minnesota will host their first national TV game of the season as they welcome Victor Wembanyama and Co. to Target Center on ESPN.

In-Season Tournament - Minnesota Timberwolves v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves are set to make their national TV debut for this season as they welcome Victor Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs in a game that could feature the return of Anthony Edwards, who has missed the team’s past two games with a right hip pointer.

Game Info


Injury Report

Minnesota

QUESTIONABLE:

  • Anthony Edwards (right hip pointer)

OUT:

  • Jaylen Clark (right achilles tendon rupture rehab)
  • Jaden McDaniels (Grade 1 lateral right ankle sprain)
  • Jordan McLaughlin (right knee MCL sprain)
  • Leonard Miller (G League assignment)

San Antonio

PROBABLE:

  • Zach Collins (left thumb sprain)
  • Devin Vassell (left knee injury management)

OUT:

  • Dominick Barlow (G League assignment)
  • Charles Bediako (G League assignment)
  • Sidy Cissoko (G League assignment)
  • Sir’Jabari Rice (G League assignment)
  • Blake Wesley (G League assignment)

What To Watch For

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

A Big Head-to-Head

As it will be for any matchup between the two, the main thing to keep an eye on in this one is the matchup of French centers between mentor Rudy Gobert and mentee Victor Wembenyama. Everything the Spurs have done this year has hinged on the rookie first pick, but it’s worth noting that in their first matchup of the year Wembenyama absolutely torched the Wolves in a 29-point performance that Minnesota narrowly escaped with a 117-110 victory. This time around, though, the Timberwolves are on a streak of playing arguably the best basketball in franchise history, while the Spurs are averaging one win per month so far this year.

All eyes will be on the matchup between the two franchise centers, but the struggle between Karl-Anthony Towns and Jeremy Sochan could be just as important to the game’s eventual outcome. It was Towns, not Gobert, who pushed the Timberwolves to a win on November 10th. With Zach Collins returning, KAT will be faced with a decent matchup in the front court, but also one he knows well, and has won previously to the tune of scoring 60 points in a game.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

By The Numbers: Spurs Sliding

The Spurs have lost 14 straight games, trailing only the Wizards and Pistons in terms of worst record on the year. Bad teams usually have bad numbers and the Spurs do. They sit in the bottom-10 in points per game, 3-point percentage, rebounding, and turnovers. They have scored more than 120 points in as many games as they have scored under a century during these streak. Quite simply, this is not a very good team.

The Timberwolves, on the other hand, have the best record in the entire NBA and sit atop the Western Conference by what is, at this point in the season, a not insignificant margin. They’re fourth in net rating and have the best defensive rating in basketball by a staggering 1.5 points. As the season slowly ticks to being one quarter over, two things have become clear: the Timberwolves are good and the Spurs are not.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Playmaking and the Point of Attack

Despite all the early season complaints, the Spurs are fourth in assists per game. The Spurs have three different players averaging over four assists, each from different positional groups. While we’ve highlighted the matchup between Sochan (4.4 assists per game) and Towns, this game will likely be shaped by the job Nickeil Alexander-Walker can do on Tre Jones, the Spurs’ team leader in assists per game at 5.1.

NAW has been phenomenal filling in for the injured Jaden McDaniels and will have to continue his hybrid guard role while also slowing down Jones on the perimeter. Alexander-Walker should also be able to avoid foul trouble, as Jones has shot no free throws in three of his last seven and is averaging only 1.4 trips to the line per game.

The Spurs run a very straight-forward inside outside attack, combining the scoring of Wembenyama and forward Devin Vassell with the connective play of Sochan, Jones, and Keldon Johnson. If the Wolves can force those same supplementary players to beat them, they should be able to live with the results.

Ultimately, this game should not come down to scoring, but the absence of Anthony Edwards will continue to be felt if the Timberwolves offense cannot come to life. Ant is questionable, and his return would add a much needed boost to both the at rim pressure and general shot creation that the Wolves have lacked even in this impressive run, but that may be a bit much to put on a player returning from a painful looking hip injury that has kept him out for the past couple of games. This is Anthony Edwards though...

With or without Ant, while on offense, the Spurs have a roster full of positionally functional defenders, but can still take advantage of the youth of the roster by overloading Wembenyama in pick and roll deciphering and by leveraging the excellent off ball cutting shown by Troy Brown Jr. and Kyle Anderson recently to create favorable mismatches and hopefully get San Antonio in foul trouble early and often.