Setting the stage:
My wins-losses prediction for last week was correct.
Unfortunately for me—and Wolves fans everywhere—that means that Minny fell to Houston Thursday night, and the playoffs are really looking to be just beyond reach.
Saying good-bye to the postseason is always painful, and it seems particularly difficult this year when things started out well and it seemed—for a short while—that we had compiled the right puzzle pieces.
That being said, however, the Wolves are working for a strong end to the season. Several positive things happened this past week:
- Ricky Rubio had the game of his career against Dallas Wednesday evening, notching his third career triple-double with 22 pts (67%), 15 assts and 10 rebs. On top of that, he added four steals and a block. To view highlights of the game, click here.
- Kevin Love stepped up his defensive performance in the last few games. Specifically against Dallas, Love put some solid coverage on Dirk Nowitzki.
- Rookie Gorgei Dieng started in Nikola Pekovic’s absence, and the rookie surprised everyone. Over two games, Dieng tallied 32 points 32 rebounds.
Can the Wolves keep up a strong finish? Minnesota has four games this week, two of which are at home. Let’s take a look…
Game 69: Sunday, 3/23, 2:30pm – Phoenix Suns @ Timberwolves (TV: untelevised)
Phoenix is one place above Minnesota in the Western Conference standings, and lately the Suns have been making it easier for the Wolves to catch up. The Suns have a busy week as well, playing five games in the next week. They will face Detroit on Friday before travelling to Minnesota. Phoenix is only two games out of slot No. 8, and the Wolves can expect a tough opponent for Sunday afternoon’s game.
Opponent to watch:
Goran Dragic – Dragic is averaging 20.4 points and six assists per game, and he will be a challenging matchup for Rubio. In his previous two matchups with Minnesota, Dragic scored 26 and 16 points, respectively.
Phoenix and Minnesota prove pretty equal opponents, and it may just come down to the team more hungry for a win. The Wolves do have home-court advantage, though, and they’ve been playing stronger as a team. I’ll take Minny for the win.
Final Score: Wolves 105, Suns 95
Game 70: Monday, 3/24, 7:00pm – Timberwolves @ Memphis Grizzlies (TV: FS North)
The Wolves are 1-1 with Memphis so far this season, and they will play them twice more before the close. The Grizzlies are currently slotted at No. 7 in the playoff race,* but they could use a few more “W’s” to bolster their confidence. They have had a solid month so far, losing only two of their last 10 games.
Opponent to watch:
Marc Gasol – Gasol is only averaging 13.8 points a game, but right now he will probably be the Wolves biggest challenge as starting center Nikola Pekovic continues to be sidelined. At 7’1″, Gasol definitely has a size advantage over Dieng, who has been filling in for Pek. Fortunately for Minny, Dieng has done more than held his own over the past two games. Monday night’s contest could be a true test for the young rookie.
Plain and simple, Memphis is on a roll. In all reality, the Grizzlies have more to gain from a win than Minnesota, and I think that will make the difference. It’s the end of the year, both teams are tired, and the Grizzlies hold the momentum card at this point in the game. I expect a close game at the Target Center, but it seems likely that the Grizz will take this one.
Final score: Timberwolves 99, Grizzlies 106
Game 71: Wednesday, 3/26, 7:00pm – Atlanta Hawks @ Timberwolves (TV: Fox Sports North Plus)
In my opinion, Wednesday’s game against Atlanta will prove the most exciting of the week. At 31-35, Atlanta is barely clinging to that No. 8 spot in the weaker Eastern Conference. The Hawks and the Wolves have shared a similar type of season, but their difference in location spells completely different stories. The teams are 1-1 against each other on the season. Atlanta is ranked No. 5 in the NBA for three-point shooting, and Minnesota comes in way behind at No. 26. Kevin Martin and JJ Barea will need to be more than present for the Wolves to keep up with the long-range game.
Opponent to watch:
Kyle Korver – Korver is the sole reason that Atlanta has the three-point game it does. At 33 years old, the veteran averages 2.7 three-point buckets per game, landing him at No. 1 in the league overall. On Feb. 1, Korver scored 24 points (half of those from behind the three-point line) against Minnesota.
Wednesday’s game should be a pretty even matchup, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets a bit chippy. The big key to a Wolves win will be defense. Minnesota has struggled on that end of the floor all year, but lately it has improved. If Rubio and Barea can stick to Korver, and if Love can step it up and offer coverage beneath the basket, I think the Wolves ultimately have the stronger team here.
Final score: Timberwolves 101, Hawks 98
Game 72: Friday, 3/28 7pm – LA Lakers @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)
It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers are a far cry from the team they once were. In fact, only four teams in the NBA currently hold worse records than the Lakers. When is the last time that happened? The Wolves are 2-1 against the Lakers this season, and Friday night should add one more win in Minny’s favor. The Lakers have no more to play for this season … except maybe a higher draft pick …
Opponent to watch:
Wesley Johnson – As much as it pains me to say this, I’m naming Wes Johnson as the player to watch in Friday’s game. After leaving Minnesota, the 2010 No. 4 draft pick has actually done quite well on the West Coast. Johnson is currently averaging 9.2 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. While not staggering stats, it’s common for players to feel the “something to prove” attitude when playing their old team. I expect Johnson to have a big game in return to his former stomping grounds.
If Minnesota can keep things rolling the way it has, Friday’s home stand should be a win over LA. I’m going out on a limb and calling it a big win.
Final score: Timberwolves 111, Lakers 89
Playoff hopes aside, Wolves fans hope to see Minnesota play its remaining games with gusto. This past week provided a lot of momentum for the Wolves, and I expect it to continue in the four-game week.