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Game Preview #49: Wolves vs. Magic

2024 NBA All-Stars Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns will face fellow selection in Orlando’s Paolo Banchero and the Magic.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Orlando Magic Photo by Rich Storry/Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic will face off for the last time this season. While the Timberwolves will look to expand on their best in the west record, the Magic are looking to turn around their recent losing ways. The first matchup was highlighted by fascinating defensive matchups, and this game will likely be more of the same as two of the bottom 12 offenses face off in Downtown Minneapolis.


Game Info

  • Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (34-14) vs Orlando Magic (25-23)
  • When: Friday, February 2nd at 7:00 PM CT
  • Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, MN
  • TV: Bally Sports North (Marney Gellner, Jim Petersen and Lea B. Olsen)
  • Radio: Wolves Radio App, KFAN FM 100.3
  • Line: Wolves -6.5, Total: 213.5 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)

Injury Report

Updated as of Friday 2/2 at 7:00 PM CT:

Minnesota

AVAILABLE:

  • Rudy Gobert (left ankle sprain)

OUT:

  • Jaylen Clark (right achilles tendon rupture rehab)
  • Leonard Miller (G League assignment)
  • Josh Minott (G League assignment)

Orlando

PROBABLE:

  • Gary Harris (right calf strain)

OUT:

  • Kevon Harris (two-way contract)
  • Jett Howard (G League assignment)

What To Watch For

Orlando Magic v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Jaden McDaniels vs Paolo Banchero

The last time these two teams battled, Seattle natives Jaden McDaniels and Paolo Banchero matching up was one of the biggest highlights for the Timberwolves. Banchero played well below his standards as he finished with just 18 points, three assists, and a game low -30 plus/minus while shooting just 36.4% from the floor. While McDaniels wasn’t the sole defender Banchero had to deal with, he did take the bulk of the responsibilities.

In that game, Jaden covered Paolo just under seven total minutes and just under 29 full possessions. During that time, Banchero scored only four points and shot 2-11 from the floor, and McDaniels committed only one foul. McDaniels’ length proved to be extremely troublesome as Banchero was completely taken out of his game. Every time he tried to initiate contact, McDaniels simply backed off and instead used his length to contest. It was a brilliantly mature defensive performance.

In Friday’s game, the Wolves will need a similar performance from McDaniels as Banchero has been on a heater recently. Over his last five games, Banchero is averaging 26.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 6.6 assists with shooting splits of 47.4/36.7/66. Banchero is a mega talent in his own right, but the return of Franz Wagner is clearly paying dividends.

With Wagner back in the lineup, opposing defenses have to be concerned about two forwards who are capable of scoring and creating in all areas of the floor. The combination of Wagner and Banchero presents a tricky matchup for the Timberwolves. McDaniels will likely take the bulk of the minutes on Banchero, but it wouldn’t be shocking if they start him on Wagner and put Karl-Anthony Towns on Banchero.

If the Magic run out the same starting lineup as last game of Banchero, Wagner, Jalen Suggs, Markelle Fultz, and Wendell Carter Jr, the mismatches are aplenty. The Wolves could get creative and throw Gobert on Fultz, Towns on Carter, Mike Conley on Suggs, Anthony Edwards on Wagner, and McDaniels on Banchero. Edwards is giving up a lot of size there, so it’s more than likely the Wolves matchup straight up and down the roster. This will allow McDaniels to guard the more fleet of foot Wagner while Towns tries to contain Banchero. It makes sense on paper, but it is a big risk that could let Banchero get in an early rhythm if Towns’ defense isn’t up to snuff.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Orlando Magic Photo by Rich Storry/Getty Images

Go Under Screens

The Magic aren’t known for their outside shooting, so it should be relatively simple for the Timberwolves to pack the paint and go under screens. This would be a diversion from their typical defensive coverage, as they usually go over and chase the ball-handler into Gobert’s drop coverage. This may be how they end up defending anyways, but it presents a bit more risk than necessary.

Orlando is one of the worst shooting teams in the league, so it makes sense that they want to pressure the rim where 38.3% of their shots currently come from (first per Cleaning the Glass). The Magic are just an average at-rim finishing team that shoots 67.3% (14th) there. Conversely, they are shooting just 38.2% in the mid-range and 34.9% from 3, which rank 30th and 29th respectively. Additionally, the Magic pick-and-roll ball-handlers rank in just the seventh percentile in points per possession, and as a team, they’re shooting just 36% off the dribble while scoring just 0.84 points per shot (third percentile).

While the young squad has some really physical scorers and quality off-ball movers, they are far from a threat in terms of shooting. An easy way to combat both of those traits is to simply go under screens. It will allow the Wolves to build a wall, throw bodies at rebounds, and keep potential cutters in sight.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Brooklyn Nets Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

All-Star Steaks

As we near the All-Star break, there are a lot of implications left to be settled. All three of Edwards, Towns, and Gobert will be looking to have strong finishes in hopes of getting selected. However, they aren’t alone in seeking a potential All-Star selection.

If the Timberwolves win, it will guarantee that Head Coach Chris Finch and his staff will be the coaches for the Western Conference. It is an honor that is bestowed to the two teams in first place in each conference two weeks before the break. It would be the first time that a Wolves coach would have the honor, and they would join both Edwards and Towns in Indianapolis.