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Game Preview #77: Wolves at Suns

Minnesota rides a four-game win streak into the desert as Kevin Durant makes his home debut in Phoenix on ESPN.

Phoenix Suns v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Game Info

Injury Reports



  • Karl-Anthony Towns — Right Calf Strain


  • Anthony Edwards — Illness
  • Kyle Anderson — llness
  • Jaylen Nowell — Left Knee Tendinopathy
  • Taurean Prince — Illness
  • Austin Rivers — Illness


  • Matt Ryan — Illness



  • Kevin Durant — Left Ankle Sprain

What To Watch For

Phoenix Suns v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Kevin Durant’s Desert Debut

Barring any pregame set-back, Suns star Kevin Durant will make his valley debut tonight in Phoenix on ESPN, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. Durant played in three games for the Suns before missing the last 10 with a left ankle sprain, but made all three appearances on the road. Phoenix went 3-0 against the Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks, with KD averaging 26.7 points on 69.0/53.8/88.2 shooting splits, 7.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 32.7 minutes per game.

Nobody benefitted from Durant’s presence more than Devin Booker, whose numbers took an impressive jump once KD entered the fold:

  • Points: 27.6 to 36.0
  • Shooting splits: 49.4/35.7/85.5 to 56.0/50.0/77.8
  • Assists: 5.3 to 7.7
  • Rebounds: 4.6 to 5.3

With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch approaches his team’s defensive assignments. It feels crazy not dedicating your best defender to Durant, but Jaden McDaniels slowing down a full strength Booker could be more beneficial to the Wolves’ cause, especially if Durant has any rust to work off.

Putting a more physical defender in Anthony Edwards on Durant may deter him from attacking the rim and open up more opportunities for KD to settle for jumpers rather than get into the teeth of a Minnesota defense prone to fouling on the interior. It feels likely Finch assigns McDaniels to Durant, but he has had more success guarding smaller, scoring guards (think Donovan Mitchell) rather than a taller, do-it-all wing like Durant.

After switching around Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert on Kevon Looney and Draymond Green on Sunday against the Golden State Warriors, it would make sense Finch will do the same tonight against Deandre Ayton and Josh Okogie, respectively. Keeping KAT in the paint as much as possible protects his limited mobility, and allows for Gobert to be more of a playmaker, so keep an eye out for how those matchups play out from the tip tonight.

Phoenix Suns v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Anthony Edwards’ Health

(Editor’s note: this was published before Edwards was downgraded to questionable with an illness around 7 PM CT).

The Wolves need Edwards at the peak of his powers tonight if they want to steal a third straight win as road underdogs against a team above them in the Western Conference standings.

Understandably, Edwards’ ankle limited his impact in the team’s wins over the Warriors and Sacramento Kings, but with a day off on Tuesday and added distance from the initial injury, the hope is he looks closer to himself tonight, especially with Kyle Anderson being downgraded to questionable with an illness late this afternoon. After scoring 28 points in his last fully healthy game on March 15 against the Boston Celtics, Edwards has scored just 30 points combined in his first two games back.

Despite his scoring taking a dip, Edwards deserves credit for being available and finding other ways to impact the game. He recorded seven assists to just one turnover, and corralled five rebounds in the win over Sacramento, while buying into the game plan and enabling his teammates to find success in the fourth quarter. His creation — both for himself and others — will be essential to keeping the Wolves’ offense running smoothly without a key cog in Slow-Mo.

It certainly wouldn’t be a bad night for Edwards and Towns to recreate their epic night from a couple years ago, when they scored 42 and 41 points, respectively in a 123-119 win over a team that went to the NBA Finals that season. Even if we don’t get that, Edwards getting back on track with a 30-point night against a Suns defense that has let Tyrese Maxey (37), Kevin Huerter (29), Austin Reaves (25) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (40) get loose in recent games would go a long way in securing the Wolves a win that would fast-track them to avoiding the Play-In Tournament.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Karl-Anthony Towns’ and Naz Reid’s Offensive Aggression

Simply put, the Wolves need Towns to let it rip tonight. He hasn’t shot the ball particularly well from the field in the two games he’s played since returning from injury (13/34, 38.2%), but he is 6/12 from the 3-point line and has provided a scoring punch in key moments of both games. With Anderson likely out tonight, Towns could shift his focus to replacing Slow-Mo’s connective playmaking; but the team will badly needs his scoring against a Booker/Durant 1-2 scoring punch.

KAT has scored 25 or more points in only eight of his 23 games played this season, and has only taken 15+ shots in a game 12 times. Working to get him as involved as possible as a shooter tonight against a team that ranks fifth (0.874) in fewest points per possession allowed to ball-handlers in the PnR (per Synergy Sports), will be critical. While Phoenix does rank second-worst (1.242) in PPP allowed to roll men, adding Durant as a weak-side helper into the fold with Ayton will curtail Gobert’s impact diving to the rim. That should open plenty of looks for Towns to get involved both as a shooter in the perimeter and as a low-post scorer against a much thinner Durant if he draws that matchup.

As for Naz Reid, this is another excellent matchup for him to be the focal point of the team’s offense while he’s on the floor. Suns backup centers Jock Landale and Bismack Biyombo are both significantly slower than Reid, which will present him the opportunity to blow by them on the drive and get involved as a popper in the two-man game.

Naz scored 13 points on at least 60% shooting in each of his first two games against the Suns (15 and 16 minutes, respectively), and I’d expect to see him push 20 points once again if sees increased run without Anderson. Over his last five games, Reid is averaging 20.2 points on nearly 13 shots per game with excellent efficiency (66.7/44.4/69.2), so feeding him as much as possible against a very thin Suns front-court needs to headline any offensive plan of attack.

Memphis Grizzlies v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Scoreboard Watching

While the Wolves can put themselves in prime position to finish with a top-six seed and avoid the Play-In Tournament with a win tonight, independent of other teams’ performances, the situation is still worth watching.

Here is a look at the Western Conference playoff picture entering Wednesday’s games:

Minnesota has the easiest remaining schedule of the nine teams pictured, if you look at the average win percentage of their remaining opponents. Of course, that doesn’t account for teams like the Kings, Memphis Grizzlies or Denver Nuggets potentially resting players as they close in on clinching specific playoff seeds.

Games to keep an eye on tonight:

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are both OUT for L.A., while the Grizz will likely miss Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Tyus Jones in a rest night for their crew. A hard one to handicap, but a pivotal game for the Timberwolves. If the Wolves win and Clippers lose, Minnesota would be tied with L.A. in the standings, but the Timberwolves own the tiebreaker over L.A (2-1 in season series) and Golden State (intra-conference record), so they would actually climb to fifth in the standings, within half a game of the Suns for No. 4.

Can Patrick Beverley pull it off one more time?

No SGA tonight for the Thunder after they lost at home to the Charlotte Hornets last night, as the Hornets continue to wreak havoc on the bottom of the Western Conference Play-In race.

Joel Embiid and James Harden will both return for Philadelphia tonight, so one would think the Sixers have a good shot of beating a reeling Mavs squad fighting just to make the Play-In.