Setting the stage:
Similar to last week, there is absolutely no margin for error for the Wolves.
The fact that the Wolves are ranked No. 3 in the league for average points scored speaks volumes about our defense–or lack thereof. Minnesota continues to struggle in keeping its opponents under 100 points, and something has to change. I think it’s safe to say that the team is feeling Andrei Kirilenko’s absence this season, at least on that side of the floor. Corey Brewer consistently does well on D, and having Nikola Pekovic back in the lineup helps tremendously. If the Timberwolves want to win games, defense needs to stay a focus.
Can the Wolves even make the playoffs at this point? I mean, is there any chance?
It’s a small chance, and other teams would have to lose, but the chance is still there. According to CBSSports’ David McCoy, Minny will have to win at least 14 of its last 18 games in order to have a shot at the postseason.
Winning against Milwaukee definitely helped, and Sunday’s game against Sacramento should be a “W” as well. However, a Friday loss in Charlotte really hurt. In addition, we have tough games this week against Dallas and Houston. The opponents the Wolves absolutely need to beat are those near us in the standings: Dallas, Denver and Phoenix.
With all this in mind, let’s take a look at the week ahead…
Game 66: Sunday, 3/16, 6pm – Sacramento Kings @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)
At 23-42* on the season, Sacramento should be an easy opponent–especially considering it’s a home contest. However, in the two games between the Wolves and Kings this season, the teams have split wins. Minnesota lost at home to SAC on January 15, but earlier this month the Wolves came away with the win on the west coast.
Opponent to watch:
Rudy Gay – Between the games against Sacramento earlier this season, Gay totaled 57 points. Despite only averaging 20 PPG, the Wolves tend to allow the forward to walk all over their defense. Look for Brewer to be playing extra close defense against Gay Sunday night.
Sacramento is currently averaging 101 points per game. The Wolves are averaging 106.3. If Minnesota can step up its defensive game and hold Gay to under 20 points, the home team has a definite advantage here. I’ll take the Wolves in triple digits.
Final Score: Wolves 109, Kings 96
Game 67: Wednesday, 3/19, 7:30pm – Timberwolves @ Dallas Mavericks (TV: FS North)
The Wolves face Dallas on the road Wednesday evening, and if there is one game more crucial than the others at this point, it’s this one. The Mavericks are currently in the No. 8 (and last) seat for the Playoffs — two spots ahead of Minnesota. The Mavs’ current record of 39-27* has an edge over the Wolves, and they absolutely cannot afford to lose. In my opinion, this will be the toughest game of the week. The good news is, Minnesota has played well against Dallas this year. Out of three contests, Minny took two of the wins and lost the final in 100-98 heart-breaker.
Opponent to watch:
Monta Ellis – Ellis is currently averaging 18.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. In the past nine games, the SG has scored 15+ points every night. Ellis’ quick passes and agility on the floor are hard to control, especially with a defensively challenged team like Minnesota.
This game holds a lot of weight, and you know the Wolves are feeling it. Having a healthy lineup again (and especially with Kevin Martin back), I think Minnesota will take the upper hand in a shootout.
Final score: Timberwolves 104, Mavericks 100
Game 68: Thursday, 3/20, 7pm – Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets (TV: FS North)
At this point in the season, Houston has pretty much cemented itself in the playoffs. There is less resting on this game for the opponents; however, Minnesota has historically struggled against the Rockets. The Wolves are 0-2 against the Rockets this season, by a total disadvantage of 20 points. Especially since this is a consecutive road game for Minny, it’s going to be a tiring game.
Opponent to watch:
James Harden – Harden missed the last game against Minnesota with a sore foot, but he is back to his old self and tearing up defenses across the league. Harden has slated three games with over 30 points (two of them over 40!) in his past 10 games. At 6’5″ and 225 lbs, Harden is one of the largest and most physical guards in the game. I expect the Wolves to have a hard time stopping him.
As much as I hate to say it, I don’t think the Wolves will be able to pull out a win here. Houston runs a physical offense that Minnesota will have a tough time defending, and the size comparison alone is huge. Don’t forget the fact that the Wolves fell to Houston less than a month ago … without Harden.
Final score: Timberwolves 99, Rockets 111
It all comes down to these last 19 games. If Minnesota can come out of this week with at least two wins under its belt, playoff hopes will be kept alive. The first two games this week will really set the tempo, so I’m hoping my predictions are accurate there.
*records current as of 3/14/2014