Setting the stage:
The Wolves endured a very dramatic pair of losses during the holiday break, first against the Dallas Mavericks following a terrible non-call which kept Kevin Love from attempting the game-tying free throws, and then again at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder after Love was fouled on a three-pointer and awarded with three free throws with Minnesota down by two, but he was unable to make the first two and intentionally missed the last one.
Minnesota was able to defeat the New Orleans Hornets at home on New Years Day, but a 1-2 home stand does not cut it for a team that currently stands at 16-17 and tied for ninth place in the Western Conference. Let’s check out this weeks matchups:
Game 35: Monday, 1/6, 7 PM – Timberwolves @ Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers have been one of the biggest surprises this NBA season led by rookie phenom Michael Carter-Williams and consummate professional Thaddeus Young. Carter-Williams, a 6-foot-6 point guard out of Syracuse, is averaging 17.2 points, 7.2 assists and 5.7 rebounds per contest and has helped Philly to their current four game win streak. Following the draft-day trade that sent Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for recovering rookie center Nerlens Noel and a 2014 first-round draft pick, Philly has refused to accept tanking as they have defeated teams that include Miami, Houston and Portland.
Opponent to watch:
As stated above, Carter-Williams is the key to Philly’s dynamic offense and Wolves’ defenders will need to focus on limiting penetration from the 76ers guards.
The 76ers are currently last in the NBA in opponents points per game, so barring an offensive meltdown Minnesota should be able to do what they want to on the offensive end. Nikola Pekovic will be matched up against the defensively incapable Spencer Hawes and we should see a field day from our big fella. This is a game that the Timberwolves really need to take advantage of in order to begin straightening out their season.
Game 36: Wednesday, 1/8, 9:30 PM – Phoenix Suns @ Timberwolves
The Suns, like the 76ers, began this season as predicted by many to be in the tank-for-Wiggins sweepstakes. However, the Suns have been anything but a lottery-bound squad this season as they currently sit at 20-12 and seventh in the Western Conference. This game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN and will involve a pair of playoff-hopeful teams.
Opponent to watch:
After being acquired in the summer from the Los Angeles Clippers, young point guard Eric Bledsoe has played like a fringe All-Star and has been the catalyst for a sudden rebirth of competitiveness in Phoenix. Unfortunately, he will likely miss Wednesday’s game and instead the focus will be on fellow backcourt partner Goran Dragic, the smooth-playing combo guard that has enjoyed a terrific season paired with Bledsoe. Many national basketball analysts still cannot pinpoint exactly how the Suns have kept up their tremendous pace, but they continue to click on all cylinders and are truly getting the most out of their players. Watch out for Dragic to lead the charge.
Minnesota will surely be supported by a big home crowd as this is an ESPN broadcast, and they will need to exploit Phoenix’s inexperience while locking down on the defensive end if they are to have an opportunity to win this game. If the Wolves are to make the playoffs, the time is now for them to begin distinguishing themselves from teams like Phoenix of whom have no business being in the playoff race.
Game 37: Friday, 1/10, 8 PM – Charlotte Bobcats @ Timberwolves
What a sick world we live in where the Bobcats are sitting fairly comfortably in the Eastern Conference playoff picture while the Timberwolves continue to claw their way back towards the Western Conferences eighth seed. At only 15-20, the Bobcats sit at seventh in the miserable East despite being 27th in the NBA in points per game. They have helped their cause by locking down defensively, ranking third in the NBA in opponents points per game.
Opponent to watch:
Kemba Walker has been one of the only bright spots for a franchise that has had an extremely difficult time finding relevancy, despite being owned by Michael Jordan. He has the speed and separation skills to get his shot consistently, but Ricky Rubio holds the size advantage making this a very interesting matchup.
Minnesota must find a way to win this one at home. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t beat the Bobcats at home, you shouldn’t be in the playoffs.”