The Wolves have had a long road trip, and the schedule doesn’t exactly get lighter coming up. Minnesota will face another four-game week with road games bracketing a home stance.
The Timberwolves have won three of their last five games, and the team does seem to be pulling things together. There [appears to be] less tension on the floor, and the team is putting up big numbers on offense. In addition, Kevin Love was recently voted in as an All-Star starter, and we have to imagine that the honors will bolster the forward’s demeanor.
Ricky Rubio has been playing solid defense and scoring more points, and he is showing more and more consistency with every game. The most stable factor on Minnesota’s roster currently is center Nikola Pekovic, who is averaging 18.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Fortunately for the Wolves, Pek has been much healthier this season and is dominating on the inside.
If the Wolves stay on their current track, here are my predictions for Week 14 …
Game 45: Monday, 1/27 – Timberwolves @ Chicago Bulls (TV: FS North)
The Timberwolves will play final game in a four-game roadtrip when they face Chicago Monday night. They’ve had a good trip so far with two wins a single loss, but a lot rides on Game No. 4 as a “W” would bring Minnesota back to .500. Chicago’s standing in the Eastern Conference (No. 5) may be deceiving; it’s 22-21 record stands at only one game better than the Wolves. The Bulls are coming off an 89-87 win on the road in Charlotte. The Bulls are in the middle of a hot streak, opening 2014 with 10 wins and only three losses, and Minnesota has historically struggled to come away with wins at the United Center. In order to win, all the pieces must be there for the Timberwolves. Love, Pekovic and Martin will need to be on their top game and hold the team above 45 percent from the field.
Opponent to watch:
D.J. Augustin – While he may not be the top name on Chicago’s roster, the 26-year-old point guard has played a significant role for the Bulls after they traded away Marquis Teague and were without Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich. “[D.J.] was ready when this opportunity came around and he hit the ground running,” said head coach Tom Thibodeau. “It’s not just his individual talents but it is also what he is doing for our team. He is running our team well.”
Augustin is currently averaging 10 points and 4.5 assists per game. Rubio will need to be on his top defensive game Monday night.
The Timberwolves will be feeling the effects of a four-game road trip, and the numbers don’t bode well for them. Chicago is ranked No. 2 in the NBA with only allowing an average of 92.9 points from their opponents, and the Wolves are 1-11 on the road when scoring fewer than 109 points. Love was limited by a sore knee in Saturday’s 115-104 loss at Portland, and he may not be back to 100 percent for Monday’s game.
Final score: Bulls 101, Timberwolves 95
Game 46: Wednesday, 1/29, 7pm – New Orleans Pelicans @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)
Currently holding a record of 18-25, the Pelicans are one place below Minnesota in the Western Conference standings. New Orleans is ranked No. 24 overall for points allowed (102.7), which certainly stands in Minnesota’s favor. Wednesday night will be the first home game for the Wolves in over a week, and the home-court advantage should play a big role in the contest. It will be interesting to see Pekovic matched up against former Timberwolves center Greg Stiemsma, who is currently averaging only 2.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in NO.
Opponent to watch:
Anthony Davis – The second-year PF has not disappointed since being drafted out of Kentucky. Davis is averaging 20.1 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. His most impressive stat, however? The big man also averages 3.1 blocks per game.
Overall, the Timberwolves are just the better team in this matchup. Love will certainly have his hands full with Davis and will have to work extra hard to drive those baskets inside, but that proves the biggest obstacle. Pek should have no problem guarding on the inside, and if Minnesota can put up another triple-digit game, it should be a win at home.
Final score: Timberwolves 115, Pelicans 92
Game 47: Friday, 1/31, 7:00pm – Memphis Grizzlies @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)
This will be another close game, as Memphis and Minnesota are currently only two games apart. Both teams are fighting for that No. 8 playoff spot, and we can’t expect the Grizzlies to roll over on this one. Memphis has a tough defense, ranked just under Chicago in allowing 96 points per game. In addition, the matchup between big men will be one for the books, with Love and Pekovic going up against Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
The teams faced each other on Dec. 15 in Memphis, and the Timberwolves came away with a 101-93 win. Love had 30 points that evening, and we hope he can tally at least that many again.
Opponent to watch:
Marc Gasol – At 28 years old, Gasol shows no signs of slowing down. He is currently averaging 13 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, and at 7’1″, he is taller–and a bit more athletic– than the 6’11″ Pekovic. Gasol was inactive for the Dec. 15 game, so he could very well be the difference maker in Monday’s matchup.
I’m going to predict this as the closest game of the week. Both teams have strong offenses, and if players are healthy on both sides, I expect there to be six digits in the final score. Memphis does hold a stronger defensive game than Minnesota, but the Timberwolves are ranked No. 2 in the NBA for points scored. The Wolves seem to be gelling much better as a team, and I think the home-court advantage will carry them through in the end.
Final score: Timberwolves 104, Grizzlies 101
Game 48: Saturday, 2/1, 6:30pm – Timberwolves @ Atlanta Hawks (TV: FS North)
Atlanta’s record isn’t exactly outstanding (23-20 as of 1/27), but it’s good enough for a No. 3 seat in the Eastern Conference. Across the board, the Hawks prove to be a slightly above-average team, but they often come out of the woodwork and surprise their opponents. Last week, the Hawks snapped Miami’s 9-game losing streak.
This will be the first matchup for Minnesota and Atlanta this season. In 2012-13, the Hawks averaged 103 points against the Wolves, and Minnesota had an extremely difficult time shutting down Al Horford, who is no longer with the team.
Opponent to watch:
Kyle Korver – Averaging 11.9 points per game, Korver is not the top scorer on the team, but he can be hot when you least expect it, and he is the top three-point shooter in the league. In fact, Korver has gone over 100 games without missing a long ball. The Timberwolves tend to struggle defending the outside, and Korver will be a major threat in that aspect.
I may get some flack for this, but I foresee Saturday’s road game being one that the Wolves let slip through their fingers. It will be the end of eight games over a two-week stretch, and Atlanta has been playing extremely well. I don’t think Minnesota has what it takes to defend the Hawks and Korver’s crazy three-point game.
Final score: Hawks 100, Timberwolves 89
This will be a challenging week for Minnesota, but the Wolves will enjoy having back-to-back home games. Ideally, they will prove my prediction wrong and beat Atlanta on the road before enjoying two days off.