The Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday returned from their lowest point in the season by defeating the Houston Rockets 122-95 to kick off a four-game road trip. This snapped their longest losing streak of the season at two games. Getting back on the right track with their next few games coming up on Sunday against the Dallas Mavericks, Tuesday at the Orlando Magic, and Wednesday against the Boston Celtics will be huge for a team trying to stay atop the Western Conference. As they head into their final stretch and take on what could be a potential playoff matchup for the third time this season (and could be one of the first times this team is at full strength), let’s take a look at some key parts that preface this Sunday night matchup between the Wolves and Mavs.
- Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (25-9) vs. Dallas Mavericks (21-15)
- When: Sunday, January 7 at 6:30PM CT
- Where: American Airlines Center — Dallas, TX
- TV: Bally Sports North
- Radio: Wolves App Radio, iHeart Radio
- Line: Wolves -2.5 | Total: 229.5 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
Updated as of Saturday at 8:30 PM CT
- Jaylen Clark (right Achilles tendon rupture rehab)
- Dante Exum (right plantar fascia sprain)
- Maxi Kleber (right small toe dislocation)
- Dereck Lively II (left ankle sprain)
- Luka Dončić (right ankle swelling)
- Richaun Holmes (personal reasons)
- Markieff Morris (illness)
- Grant Williams (right ankle sprain)
What to Watch For
First Matchup Against Kyrie Irving
It’s no secret that the Timberwolves have had good luck in that other teams have rested their star players in many of the matchups that have featured some of the best players in the league. It seems as though this game will be some kind of regression to the mean in that regard. Kyrie Irving returned to the Mavericks’ lineup on New Year’s Day against the Utah Jazz after missing the previous 12 games with a leg injury. Luka Dončić also missed the last matchup with the Wolves on December 28. Although Dončić missed Dallas’s last game with an ankle injury, he is listed as questionable on Sunday for the matchup against the Timberwolves. This would be the first time this season that Minnesota will have faced the two stars for Dallas.
Mike Conley spoke about this directly during media availability today when asked about the different iterations of the Dallas lineup that Minnesota has seen (most notably without Kyrie Irving). He said, “It is unique with Kyrie and adding him back is going to be a nightmare for us... It's like three different teams we’ve played, guys being in and out of the lineup. Without Luka in there we didn’t know where the scoring was coming from. It was from all different areas - Hardaway and different guys were stepping up. Tonight you try to focus and maybe it’s going to come more from Luka and Kyrie and who else is going to be involved in that. We really don’t know what to expect and how to defend and play them. We do know those two guys are going to spearhead everything.”
Conley is obviously always a good quote but it was very interesting to hear him talk about how little they know truly about this Mavericks team. Obviously they have taken care of business against this team in the past but they play so differently when they have both Luka and Kyrie available. That will be something to monitor in tonight’s matchup.
Because of the lineup being in flux in the past, this game becomes a good measuring stick for this Timberwolves roster to see where they are at and how they can rebound after a tough couple of games to start the New Year. I, for one, welcome this challenge and am excited to see a fully healthy Irving and Dončić face off against the Timberwolves in this marquee matchup in the Western Conference. Assuming the tandem is back in the lineup, it will be interesting how Minnesota chooses to match up against the pair. Jaden McDaniels has guarded Dončić when he has played but I could say them giving that responsibility to Anthony Edwards instead and putting Slim on Irving.
Jaden McDaniels Providing An Offensive Spark
During the short lull that made up the last few games before the Rockets matchup, Minnesota was hard pressed to find offense outside of Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, who himself was very inconsistent in some of those matchups as well. McDaniels had a stretch of bad games on that end of the floor where he had trouble making shots and was very inefficient from the field and particularity from beyond the arc. Over the last five games before Houston — in which the Wolves went 2-3 — McDaniels shot 4/15 from deep, good for 27%. It was clear he was in a funk on the offensive end, which contributed to the offensive struggles that we have seen from this team in recent memory.
That all flipped against the Rockets on Friday night. McDaniels shot 7/10 from the field and scored an efficient 16 points. He was also 2/3 from downtown. McDaniels needs to shoot more 3-pointers. He has the ability to knock them down at a more than serviceable clip and it will help the offensive spacing and efficiency. While the usage rate will always be in flux with Towns, Edwards and Mike Conley running the majority of the show, he still needs to pick his moments to take on some of the scoring load. One way he can do this is by upping his aggressiveness in transition.
Naz Reid spoke to this during shoot around today on the importance of using the fast break to spark the offense. He said, “I think we can be a fast team... We try to get the ball up the floor by 22. I think that’s something that speaks for itself... Anybody can push. That’s the perfect example.”
This mindset and having that ability for multiple guys to push the floor is somewhere where these guys who are not necessarily the main offensive options can get their shots. If they are able to get those fast opportunities in transition and open looks, they can impact the game offensively and get efficient shots from all over the floor.
This is something that Jaden can focus on to get his offense going. Being able to have him as a complementary scoring option is imperative to improving the offense of this team. If he can get on track, putting him in with that second unit to give it an offensive boost is the next step in the development of this team and McDaniels himself. While his play has had its peaks and valleys this season, it has been good to see him get on the right track on Friday.
KAT Continuing to Shoot From the Outside
If you are anything like me, you are begging Towns to shoot the ball more from downtown. At this point, I do not care if he goes 0/10. The gravity of his ability to shoot from deep opens up everything for the entire offense. He was only 1/4 against Houston on Friday, but he seemed much more willing to play on the perimeter and used that to open up the floor for the rest of his teammates. While Towns’ effectiveness has ebbed and flowed during this season, one thing remains true: he is a lethal shooter and the best on the team in this aspect. While I know that he can fill it up on the inside and in the post, there needs to be times where he puts emphasis on shooting and playing on the perimeter.
This not only helps the spacing and allows more gaps for his teammates (namely Edwards to attack) but also allows him to re-ignite his pump-and-go game with more area in which to work. He is a great driver when he is under control and has the room to do so, but when he is not shooting over the smaller 4s that are guarding him, that part of his game is littered with bad turnovers and offensive fouls.
At this point it matters less that he makes these shots, but it is nearly more important that he takes them. If he continues to take them, it makes everything smoother on the offensive end of the floor which is what this team will need if they want to continue as the first seed in the West. He’ll probably make a good number of them, too, as he is a career 40% 3-point shooter after all.