Minnesota Timberwolves: 5 Game Forecast
Minnesota Timberwolves 5 Game Forecast
The Minnesota Timberwolves currently sit an impressive, and yet somewhat disappointing, 7-4 on the young season. After a relatively painless 5 game stretch that saw the Wolves play the Lakers, Cavaliers, Nuggets and Celtics they now embark on very important week to help cement their status among the Western Conference elite. They rank third in points per game, second in pace of play, seventh in offensive rating, sixth in defensive rating and fourth in simple rating system, which helps show they belong in the conversation among the better teams in the NBA. Unfortunately, a couple of close losses to the Clippers and Nuggets this past week are holding the Wolves record back from really making some serious noise in the West.
Their next five games include trips to Washington Wizards (2-7), Houston Rockets (7-4) and the number one team in the NBA currently, the Indiana Pacers (9-1) with home games against the Los Angeles Clippers (7-3) and the Brooklyn Nets (3-6). With a combined record of 28-21 the competition the Wolves will face this week should be a good indicator of where they stand in comparison to their NBA peers.
Even though you never want to lose, I expect their 117-113 loss to the Nuggets during the previous stretch of games to particularly sting as this week progresses. The Nuggets are a team struggling to find their identity, both offensive and defensively, and the Wolves gave that game away by not playing particularly well. So it will be up to the Wolves to make up that potential lost ground and maybe steal a game versus a team like Indiana or Houston.
Let’s take a look at how the next five games will shake out, and the key players and match-ups the Wolves will have to face if they want to make it out with their .600 winning percentage still intact.
5. The Washington Wizards
The Wizards are one of the biggest underachievers on the young season. They currently sit at 2-7, which compared to their expectations, leaves much to be desired. The Wizards traded a protected 2014 pick for Marcin Gortat, a move that signifies their belief in this team as a potential playoff contender in the East, but the early returns suggest they weren’t actually ready to make that move. They’ve yet to get a game out of third overall pick, Otto Porter and second year swingman Bradley Beal is struggling early on. Those issues combined with their young players’ inability to step up and fill their needs on the perimeter have left a big hole in their production.
The Wolves should be able to match up well verse the Wizards and take advantage of their two centers rotation of Gortat and Nene, as neither of them is a great match-up. I am expecting a win for the Wolves, but the Wizards are always just a monster game away from winning.
4. The Los Angeles Clippers
These two teams matched up earlier in the year, when Kevin Love missed a tip-in that would have tied the game. They are very evenly matched as they both feature play-making point guards, all-star power forwards, three point shooting wings and a top 12 center. The Clippers are one of the few teams where I would argue the Wolves have a better bench then as well. The X-Factor might be the fact that it comes on the second half of a back-to-back for the Wolves, which for a team with a short rotation like the Wolves, is never easy.
As always it is imperative the Wolves get some scoring production out of Ricky Rubio, but against a team like the Clippers he has to be a factor to keep Chris Paul honest on defense and not help down on other players, where his ability to get steals really becomes a factor. The Chris Paul/Ricky Rubio matchup is always a fun one because they seem to frustrate one another equally.
I think the Wolves get revenge from their loss earlier in the season. Kevin Love seems to have the Clippers’ number and I’m looking out for a big game from Nikola Pekovic. Pek seems to have regained his form as a dominant post scorer during the Celtics game.
3. The Houston Rockets
The Rockets come into their week 7-4 and looking about as expected. They rank second in points per game with 109.6 and rank 29th in opponent points per game with 106.3, they give up a lot of points and they score a lot of points. Dwight Howard is playing like a top 5 center, but he’s not yet back up to speed with where he was before his series of injuries, but he is still the kind of player you need to be worried about when you face the Rockets.
I’m expecting a fun game between two of the top three offenses in the NBA, but that just means that the Wolves are going to have to make sure and get themselves up to play. They can’t afford a slow start or a third quarter let down or else it could get out of hand early. This is one of the two games during the next five game stretch that has me concerned. Pek seems to play well verses Dwight and I think this is the type of game where Rubio could threaten Scott Skiles’ single game assist mark. Okay, not likely, but Houston’s perimeter defense is atrocious and I believe Rubio will have a monster night.
2. The Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers come into this week with the best overall record in the NBA at 9-1. The Wolves have traditionally not played well against the Pacers and a lot of that has to do with the post match-ups. Roy Hibbert vs Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love vs David West has, more often than not, fallen in favor of the Indiana Pacers. I think this is the year Kevin Love at least gets the better of his matchup with David West, he’s a smarter and better player than in years previous and I think he’s finally ready to dominate the Pacers.
The Pacers come into this week with an astonishing +9.4 point differential in scoring, dropping 95.7 points per game and giving up only 86.3 points per game. They are completely dominating en route to the best record in the NBA. Paul George has improved his shooting percentages to the point where he is in the discussion as the third best player in the league. The “Early Season MVP” Award might be up for grabs in his duel with Kevin Love.
This is the game I’m most concerned with of this week’s group of games. It would be excellent to go into Indiana and take a win from them, but it might be too tall of a task. The Pacers are gunning for the best record in the league and they aren’t likely to give a letdown performance. The Corey Brewer vs Paul George matchup is especially concerning.
1. Brooklyn Nets
The two best players for Brooklyn this year have been Brook Lopez and Shaun Livingston, that isn’t an overly encouraging sign for a team with the highest payroll in the NBA. The Nets made a blockbuster trade in the offseason for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. While the Pierce side of the equation has worked out well, KG has looked like a guy ready to go fishing in the Caribbean the rest of his life.
The key component to victory will be Nikola Pekovic vs. Brook Lopez, a match-up between two excellent scoring options who are slightly suspect defensively, if either of them can get the upper hand, that will go a long way to propelling their teams to victory.
An interesting development in the Brooklyn Nets’ season is the possible end of Deron Williams. He’s shooting a very sub par 41 percent on the season and his free throw attempts have dropped from a career average of nearly five FTA per game to 1.6. This tells me has stopped taking the ball to the rim, which is a tell-tale sign of a guard in decline.
5 Game Outlook
My hope is the Wolves can come out of this week with a 3-2 record, that would give them a 10-6 mark overall on their season and continue to prove to the rest of the league that they belong in the national conversation. Washington and Brooklyn are going to have to be victories, however, and they can’t afford to give those games away where they are clearly the better team. The season is still early, but every game counts in the crowded West. With the return of swing man Chase Budinger on the horizon, which will add much needed depth to the Wolves rotation, the season is looking very promising. These 5 games need to come first though.
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