The Pick: Timberwolves 107-99
In my humble opinion, the Timberwolves are simply better than the Mavericks when everything else is even and they have an advantage in the rest department. Dallas lost a heartbreaker in Atlanta last night (88-87) as they let a double digit fourth quarter lead evaporate. Potentially more damning than the fatigue of traveling for a back-to-back is the fact that Dirk Nowitzki (35 years old), Shawn Marion (35), and Vince Carter (36) all played at least 31 stressful minutes. Those three players figure to have tired legs (if not early in the game, certainly by the time the fourth quarter rolls around), making it awfully difficult for them to contribute the 42 percent of the team’s scoring output that they are counted on for. On the other hand, the Timberwolves don’t have a single player on their team older than 30 and the average age of their starting lineup is 26.4 years old. Age and rest suggest that the Timberwolves are in good shape to outlast the Mavericks in this one, and there is statistical evidence that also supports Minnesota controlling this game.
If you’ve read these articles before, you know that I am a big fan of getting easy points and controlling the glass. The Timberwolves are the fifth best rebounding team in the NBA and have two players in Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic that average more rebounds than any one Maverick. The exceptional rebounding has led to three Minnesota starters shooting at least 50.5 percent from inside the three point line, something not a single Maverick is doing this year. Easy points can come from inside the paint or at the free throw line, a place where both teams have excelled this season (they are the only two teams in the league making better than 81 percent of their freebies). While both teams are capable of shooting a high percentage from the stripe, the Minnesota advantage here lies within the number of attempts. The Timberwolves figure to have a significant edge as their defense gives up the second fewest FTA per night (18.3) while the Mavericks give up the most (28.1). Given the free throw accuracy of both teams, that could result in an eight point swing (and that’s assuming that the tired legs of the Mavericks don’t result in more fouls than normal).
Fun Fact: The Timberwolves beat the Mavericks in Minnesota about three weeks ago (116-108) despite allowing Jose Calderon to score 21 points, sink 6-of-8 three pointers, and hand out seven assists while turning the ball over only once. Also in that game, the Mavs shot 49 percent (46.4 percent for the season) from the field and 46 percent (38.8 percent for the season) from distance while outscoring the home team by 12 points in the paint. The difference maker? Minnesota held a 16 point edge from the free throw line (based on early season trends, that shouldn’t be overly surprising given the number of fouls Dallas commits and the free throw excellence of every member of the Timberwolves) and Dallas could not guard Love (32 points, 15 rebounds, and eight assists). That game took place after both teams had one day of rest; tonight’s game features the Timberwolves on two days rest and the Mavericks on zero.