Setting the stage:
The Timberwolves come off another extended break and haven’t played since beating Phoenix Saturday night in front of a packed Target Center. Am I the only one who enjoyed the lockout condensed schedule where teams definitively played at least three games a week and many times four or more? I can’t be. The Wolves seemingly have had these extended layoffs every other week. In any case, the victory vs. the Suns kept the Pups above the Mason-Dixon Line and moved them to 14-13 on the year.
Ricky Rubio should be back in action on Wednesday night vs. the Jazz after missing Saturday’s game with back spasms. Not to understate this too much, but he’s desperately needed given the inconsistent to weak performances the team is getting from anyone not named Alexey Shved in the backcourt. Adelman has all but waved the white flag at this point, using Derrick Williams at the SG position on Saturday night. That’s right the guy that can’t or won’t be a SF for this team was moved to SG. Can we please sign a wing player before Shved and Kirilenko literally crumble?
The Jazz come into the game on a three game losing streak, moving the team to 15-17 on the season and into the cellar of the Northwest Division. For what it is worth this early on, they are 1.5 games behind the Pups (and Blazers) for the 8th seed in the conference. The Jazz are in the bottom third (22nd) in the league in team defense, giving up 99.6 ppg so far this season. Former Pup, Big Al (Jefferson, not our very own) “leads the way” for the Jazz, averaging 17 & 10.
In our Western Conference Preview before the season we had the Jazz ranked as the 9 seed in the conference, just behind the Twolves and hinted that their frontcourt was a little too crowded. This seems to be coming to fruition, as Jefferson and Millsap lead the team in scoring and rebounding, while Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Marvin Williams struggle to find extended minutes and their roles in the rotation.
This is yet another game against a Western Conference opponent that the Pups will be fighting with over rights to go into the playoffs and/or seeding. It would be nice to hold a few tiebreakers over these teams and we get our first chance to do so against Utah on Wednesday.
Player to watch:
Ricky Rubio – Rubio will be coming off a full week of rest given the back spasms he was experiencing before Saturday’s game. The Jazz offer up a good opportunity for Ricky to shine in his 24 minutes or so, given their depth chart currently looks like this: Jamaal Tinsley, Earl Watson, and Mo Williams. Rubio needs to get going and quite honestly, the Twolves need him to as well.
Match-up to watch:
Nikola Pekovic vs. Al Jefferson. I have always liked Big Al but he has always looked like an above average player that puts up nice stats and can lead a team to mediocrity. This hasn’t changed since being traded by the Twolves for $0.14 on the dollar. Pekovic should be able to push Jefferson off the block and keep Al from having a big game down low in the paint. Actually, since calling Nikola out in early December for inconsistent play, he has been on a tear. He has scored at least 18 points in 8 of the last 9 games with the Houston game on 12/26 being the one outlier. He’s also thrown up double digit rebounds in 6 of these same 9 games. If the NBA hadn’t gotten rid of the “Center” position in the All-Star game, you would probably start to hear some rumbling about Pekovic warranting a spot on the roster.
Given the extended time off and the lack of guard play for the Jazz, this feels like it should be a victory for the Pups and we see big games from Rubio and Shved.
Final score prediction: Twolves 104, Jazz 97
Three stars of the game predictions:
- Alexey Shved
- Andrei Kirilenko
- Ricky Rubio
Let’s go Wolves!