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Game Preview #80: Wolves at Nets

Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves will look to get back on track in must-win territory against Mikal Bridges and the Nets.

Brooklyn Nets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Game Info

Injury Reports



  • Jaylen Nowell — Left Knee Tendinopathy
  • Austin Rivers — Illness
  • Karl-Anthony Towns — Right Calf Strain/Illness


  • Naz Reid — Left Scaphoid Fracture



  • Ben Simmons — Back Nerve Impingement

What To Watch For

Portland Trail Blazers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Karl-Anthony Towns’ Response

Towns is coming off arguably the worst game of his eight-year NBA career considering his comments after the previous game (vs L.A.), the playoff implications of the game, and his performance itself. He took a career-low three shots and was in foul trouble for most of the game after claiming to have all the answers that could fix the team’s offense and ensure the team wins. Needless to say, that’s a bad look.

In the 48 hours since then, Towns has understandably drawn the ire of the fan base, seen his comments and play put under heavy scrutiny, and had his future in Minnesota put into legitimate question. It was the type of performance and loss that can become an inflection point in a player’s tenure with a team, one way or the other.

The beauty of the NBA is that there are 82 games in a season. Towns has three games to craft a response with his play, and at minimum one postseason game to prove to his teammates, his coaches, the front office and most importantly, the fan base, that he should be part of the team’s core moving forward. Tonight is his first opportunity to prove either that Sunday was a blip from his long-standing track record of consistent regular season play, or that his critics have a point when discussing his suboptimal play in games with high stakes over his career.

One way or the other, Towns will respond on Tuesday night. How KAT does so is up to him and will contribute to determining not only the outcome of the Timberwolves’ season, but his future in Minnesota.

(Towns is listed as questionable with a right calf strain/illness, but participated in shootaround on Tuesday in New York City.)

Brooklyn Nets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Can the Wolves Make Someone Other Than Mikal Bridges Beat Them?

The Nets’ blossoming star was named NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday after a week averaging 33.0 points on 50.0/45.5/88.5 shooting splits, 5.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game while leading Brooklyn to a 3-0 record.

Last month, Bridges put up 34 points on 13/24 shooting, six rebounds and one assist to four turnovers in a 124-123 Nets win over the Wolves in an overtime thriller at Target Center. Bridges absolutely torched Minnesota’s drop coverage in the mid-range and connected on four of his eight triggers from deep. He will likely draw Jaden McDaniels tonight, and it will be interesting to see which coverage the Wolves use to start the game.

“I think they were very comfortable in the mid-range, way too comfortable to start the game,” Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch said after Sunday’s crushing loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, calling his team’s defensive game plan ‘too soft’ to start the game.

“That’s the other thing you have to do with these teams. You have to make sure they’re uncomfortable to start the game, not comfortable start the game because now they feel the rhythm of the game and they feel their confidence growing with each possession.”

This would be a good spot to play the high wall.

While Brooklyn has shooters galore, preventing dribble penetration into the paint should be priority No. 1 against Bridges and Spencer Dinwiddie, who shredded the Wolves’ defense on drive-and-kicks in the first matchup. Forcing Dinwiddie to get rid of the ball early and trusting Anthony Edwards, Mike Conley and Towns/Rudy Gobert to rotate behind the play is better than allowing them to roam free in the mid-range.

The Timberwolves haven’t dictated the terms of the last three games, but have the opportunity to do so with an aggressive, in-your-face defense that can generate points off turnovers and on the fast break to help a struggling half-court offense without Naz Reid. Bridges and Dinwiddie combined for 65 of the Nets’ 124 points in the teams’ first matchup; if they can bring that number closer to 50, the Wolves should cruise to victory provided their stars show up.

Scoreboard Watching

While the Wolves seem primed to participate in the Play-In Tournament in some fashion, independent of other teams’ performances, we should all still monitor the situation surrounding the Timberwolves in the standings.

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

FiveThirtyEight gives the Wolves a 50-50 shot at making the playoffs. That number will surely rise if Minnesota can work their way into the 7/8 game instead of the 9/10 game, but we’ll see.

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 Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies or Denver Nuggets potentially resting players as they close in on clinching specific playoff seeds.

At this point, Timberwolves fans should be rooting against the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans Pelicans at all costs. The Wolves can avoid the Play-In Tournament and get the No. 6 seed if three of those teams lose two of their remaining games. While that is possible, it’s not plausible.

Games to keep an eye on tonight:

  • #9 Minnesota Timberwolves (-1.5) @ Brooklyn Nets

Nothing matters without a Wolves win.

D’Angelo Russell is trending towards being out ahead of tomorrow night’s Battle for L.A., while Lauri Markkanen (hand) is out for Utah.

  • #8 New Orleans Pelicans (-4) vs #3 Sacramento Kings

This is a surprising line considering the Kings are essentially at full strength, but one to keep an eye on nonetheless. If Sacramento wins, Minnesota controls their own destiny for the 7/8 game.

All systems go for OKC as they appear to be content making the Play-In Tournament. Will the Warriors get back on track or put up another inexplicable loss to an inferior team?