By: Dan Slaubaugh
Well, fellas, tonight’s a big one in the Western Conference playoff race. Monstrous, in fact.
A Timberwolves victory would give them the series win and tiebreaker over the Trail Blazers, which is like having another game in the standings. Furthermore, it would give give them tiebreakers over three teams in the playoff race - Portland, Oklahoma City, and New Orleans (also could still win tiebreaker with San Antonio with a win March 17).
Meanwhile, Portland (35-26) currently stands in fifth place, 1-½ games behind No. 3 Minnesota (38-26) and 1/2 game back of No. 4 San Antonio (36-26). They have played great as of late, winning six of their past seven games, and will be gunning for a fifth straight win after blowing past the Kings in a 116-99 home win on Tuesday.
What: Wolves @ Blazers
Where: Moda Center. Portland, Oregon.
When: 9:30 PM CT
Where to watch: TNT
Where to listen: 830 WCCO
What to watch for:
Wiggins comfortable without Butler: He won’t say it, but Andrew Wiggins loves being the go-to option offensively. With Jimmy Butler sidelined the last couple games, Wiggins has looked more aggressive and decisive, helping lead the Wolves to back-to-back wins while scoring a combined 55 points on 51 percent shooting from the field. Look for Wiggins to come out firing offensively again tonight.
Dame Dolla: Currently averaging 26.3 points, 6.6 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting a career-high 44.9 percent from the field and 36.9 percent from the 3-point line, Damian Lillard has been the league’s most underappreciated point guard this season. Alongside dynamic shooting guard CJ McCollum, they form one of the most dangerous backcourts in the league. The Wolves will have their hands full trying to contain these two from getting hot.
Jef Teague surging: The veteran point guard has unquestionably been one of the biggest beneficiaries of Jimmy Butler's two-game absence thus far with a knee injury, as he's averaged 22.5 points on 15.5 shot attempts in the pair of contests. He’s stepped up at a time the team needs him most and much like Wiggins, has looked more aggressive and decisive with the basketball.
Minnesota: PG Jeff Teague, SG Andrew Wiggins, SF Nemanja Bjelica, PF Taj Gibson, C Karl-Anthony Towns
Portland: PG Damian Lillard, SG CJ McCollum, SF Maurice Harkless, PF Al-Faroqu Aminu, C Jusuf Nurkic
Honestly, I hate watching the Wolves play in Portland. It seems like every time they play in the Moda Center it’s a close and competitive game through 2 ½ quarters until Portland goes on a massive run and tears the hearts out of Timberwolves fans across the country. Also, their arena seems dark. Ha.
Wolves struggles in Portland continue, lose 113-108. Wiggins pours in 27 points. KAT follows with 25 points and 13 boards.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the game. Go Wolves.
By: Seth Toupal
Take a look at Andrew Wiggins' 2017-18 season stats compared to his career numbers:
(stats via ESPN.com)
You don't have to look very hard to notice that Wiggins is having what could be classified as a down season. Just look at his numbers from last year compared to this year:
Add in his rankings among other small forwards throughout the rest of the NBA in other key stat areas:
It's easy to look at those numbers and become frustrated with Wiggins. The Timberwolves are in the midst of their best season since 2003-04, a year where the Timberwolves battled the Lakers to the brink in the Western Conference Finals and yet Wiggins hasn't been the same player as in years past, but is there more to it than simply being a down year? Let's take a deeper look.
The first thing that jumps out at me about Wiggins' numbers this year is his shooting percentage. Last year Wiggins per game averages were 8.6 made shots on 19.1 attempts. This year Wiggins is averaging 6.9 made shots on 15.7 attempts. If we take those averages and project them through the rest of the season Wiggins would end up with 567 made field goals which would be his lowest amount since his rookie season. If we do the same thing with his field goal attempts we get 1288 field goal attempts which is also his lowest amount since his rookie season. Simply put, Wiggins is shooting over 3 less shots per game and making about 2 less shots per game. Fewer shots made and fewer shots taken have led to fewer points for Wiggins this year.
Wiggins 3-point shooting has also taken a hit this year but in contrast to his overall shooting percentages, Wiggins is actually attempting more 3-point shots than he ever has. Wiggins has already attempted 254 3-pointers this season, and should shatter his previous career high of 289 set last year. If we project his current averages to a full season he will attempt 344 3-pointers this season, and will make 107, which is four more than he made last year but it will have taken him an additional 55 attempts to get there. So if we add what we learned in the first paragraph to what we learned here Wiggins is taking less shots per game, and taking more shots from outside and away from the rim.
Wiggins is also struggling from the free throw line compared to previous years. Wiggins is 149-235 from the free throw line so far this year which is a 63.4% success rate. Ignore the percentage though and the more concerning thing is the number of free throws. If we extrapolate Wiggins free throw attempts through 61 games to an 82 game season, Wiggins will finish with 316 free throw attempts. That number would be 94 fewer free throws than he made ALL OF LAST YEAR. This makes sense when we add in the fact that Wiggins is attempting more 3-point shots than ever before. Simply put: With the addition of Jimmy Butler the Wolves have attempted to mold Wiggins into a perimeter shooter. Butler and Wiggins are similar players in many ways, but instead of attempting to put a square peg into a round hole maybe it's time the Wolves just allow both to fully flourish?
A solution for the Wolves to consider would be to simply let Wiggins get back to where he is most successful and let other players take the perimeter shots. There is no reason that the Wolves can't allow Butler and Wiggins to both be slashers. Jeff Teague, Jamal Crawford and even Karl-Anthony Towns are all shooting better from the 3-point line than Wiggins is. If Wolves want to hold their current spot in the playoffs, they need to unleash Wiggins and let him get back to where he is most effective and more importantly, more comfortable.
Seth is host of The Scoop on KLGR Radio out of Redwood Falls, Minnesota. Listen to episodes of The Scoop here.
By: Dan Slaubaugh
The Minnesota Timberwolves currently have a record of 36-25. They have played 61 games, which means they have 21 games left to go.
Currently, the Wolves are tied with the Spurs for third place in the Western Conference standings. ESPN's NBA Basketball Power Index (BPI), a measure of team strength developed by the ESPN Analytics team, peg the Wolves with a 98.8 percent chance of making the playoffs, meaning the Wolves are extremely likely to break the NBA's longest playoff drought at 13. Hallelujah!
The Houston Rockets currently sit atop the Western Conference with a record of 44-13. Behind the Rockets are the Warriors, who are still the clear favorites to win the NBA Championship, although Houston is certainly closing the gap.
Golden State and Houston are clearly in their own tier. After that, it gets messy. Behind them are the Spurs (10 GB), Wolves (10 GB), Thunder (12 GB), Nuggets (12.5 GB), Trail Blazers (12.5 GB), Pelicans (13 GB), Clippers (13.5 GB), and Jazz (14.5). That means just 4.5 games separate the 3rd team in the West from the 10th team. However, it's important to keep in mind that 4.5 games in basketball is similar to 8-9 games in baseball because teams aren't playing every night and there's simply less games, making it harder to jump teams in the standings.
Fortunately for the Wolves, they have fewer games versus teams currently in the playoffs (10 of 21) than teams they're competing with for a top-4 seed. That includes San Antonio (17 of 23), Oklahoma City (15 of 23), Denver (17 of 24), and Portland (15 of 24).
At 24-7, the Wolves have the 5th-best home record in the NBA and the 3rd-best home record in the West. They've looked like a different team at home, evidenced by a 13-game home win streak that stretched from December 18 to February 13. Consequently, home court advantage could be the difference between the Wolves winning a playoff series or going home early in the playoffs. That being said, what would it take for the Wolves to host a playoff series for the first time since 2004?
For argument's sake, let's set a surmountable goal to set this team up for home court contention throughout the remainder of the season.
In order to get to, lets say, 48 wins and start thinking of a top-4 playoff seed, they'd ironically have to play at the exact same 48-win pace they've been playing at all season. Attainable, but not easy.
They'll begin their toughest stretch of the season right out of the All-Star break, facing Houston (A), Chicago (H), Sacramento (A), Portland (A), Utah (A), Boston (H), Golden State (H), Washington (A), San Antonio (A), and Houston (H). It gets lighter after that, as only three of their last 11 games are against teams currently in the playoffs (albeit two are against red-hot Utah).
To layout the most realistic case of the Wolves winning 48 games, here's what would need to transpire over the final two months.
-Defeat Chicago and Sacramento
-Take 3 out of the additional 8 games in the brutal 10-game stretch out of the All-Star break
-Take 7 of the final 11 games on the schedule
That would give the Wolves a 12-9 record in the final 21 games of the season to give them a final record of 48-34 and set themselves up for a great chance at home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
Regardless, the Wolves will be playing meaningful games in March and April. After so many years of being the laughingstock of the league, that alone is a success.
By: Louie Vicchiollo
Shortly before the 2017 - 2018 season began, I laid out nine realistic goals for the Timberwolves this season. With the All-Star break coming to a close, it seems like a good time to check back with these goals and see how the now not-so-new-look Wolves are doing.
Goal 1: Have a winning record
Check this one off the list. The Wolves currently sit at 36-25, with a win percentage of 59%. While this isn't the most difficult goal for the Wolves this season, being 11 games over .500 should please fans everywhere. Part of the Wolves impressive record is a 13 game home win streak, and a 27-10 record against the West. The Timberwolves have struggled against the East this season, with a record of 9-15. This is an area that will have to improve post All-Star break if the Wolves want to secure home court advantage in the playoffs. Speaking of playoffs...
Goal 2: Make the playoffs
Now I don't want to jinx anything, but as of now, the Wolves are sitting pretty. They are currently tied for 3rd in the West, with a 2 game lead over the 5th place Thunder.. One thing for fans to note is that the Wolves need to keep the pedal to the metal, the 9th place Clippers are only 3.5 games behind the Wolves; the 5th through 8th spots in the West will be tight come playoff time. For now, we can check this goal off the list as well, and expect the Timberwolves to end the 13-year playoff drought.
Goal 3: Top 10 in offensive rating
Another check mark for the Wolves. In fact, they have blown this goal out of the water. Your 2017 - 18 Minnesota Timberwolves trail only the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets in offensive rating, currently sitting 3rd in the league with a rating of 113.8. The offense is led by Karl-Anthony Towns who has an offensive rating of 126, Taj Gibson at 123 and Jimmy Butler at 123. Key bench pieces Tyus Jones and Nemanja Bjelica both have offensive ratings of 119, which has helped the Wolves' second unit keep the offense rolling.
Goal 4: Top 20 in defensive rating
This has not been great. In fact, this has been terrible, and as many Wolves fans have pointed out, this could be the Timberwolves downfall come playoff time. The Timberwolves currently sit at 26th in the league with a defensive rating of 110.5. The only other current playoff team that has a worse defensive rating are the Cleveland Cavaliers, who recently made a plethora of moves at the trade deadline. Jamal Crawford, Jeff Teague, and Andrew Wiggins all have defensive ratings of 112 or higher, and only three players have defensive ratings under 110: Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng, and Cole Aldrich. It is absolutely imperative that the Wolves improve their defense before the end of the regular season.
Goal 5: Top 20 in rebounding
Leave the checkbox blank for this goal. With similar issues to last year, the Wolves are great on the offensive glass, and struggle mightily on the defensive side of the boards. Per game, the Wolves are currently 7th in offensive rebounds, 26th in defensive rebounds, and 24th overall. Like I said at the beginning of the season, the defensive rebound issues have a direct relationship with allowing a high opponent FG%. The Wolves currently allow the highest opponent FG% in the league at 47.8%. While this may be shocking to read, it shouldn't come as surprise with the atrocious defensive rating the Wolves currently have.
Goal 6: Two NBA All-Stars
The Wolves were well represented this All-Star weekend, so lets check this one off. Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns were both selected to this year's All-Star game, and were reserves for Team Curry. While being selected to the All-Star game is often a popularity contest, it felt good to send some representatives from Minnesota for the first time since Kevin Love in 2014.
Goal 7: Two All-NBA team selections
This one is a little hard to gauge at this point in the season, but I want to highlight some statistics for the two most likely selections the Wolves have this year: Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler.
KAT is currently averaging 20.1 points, 12.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.8 steals and 1.4 blocks per game on 0.546/0.422/0.850 FG/3P/FT shooing splits, putting together an impressive resume for an All-NBA selection. Take a look below at his advance statistics this season as well.
Jimmy is putting together a nice season as well, averaging 22.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.4 blocks per game on 0.480/0.378/0.862 FG/3P/FT shooing splits, another impressive resume for the potential All-NBA player. His advanced statistics also speak volumes about his game:
While there is no guarantee that Karl or Jimmy will be selected to any All-NBA teams, they have both put together seasons that will at least make the selection committee consider them.
Goal 8: Top 20 in attendance
Leaving this one unchecked hurts the heart more than I like to admit. Although there has been a good increase in ticket sales at the Target Center, the Wolves still rank 22nd in attendance per game, and 20th in total attendance. There have been a handful of sellouts, but this hasn't been enough to get the Wolves per game attendance into the top 20. Check out the charts below for the attendance trends for each NBA team over the last four seasons.
Goal 9: Win the division
While it hurt to not check off the attendance goal, being able to currently check off the division lead feels great. The Wolves currently have a two-game lead over the second place Thunder, and there is good reason to believe the Timberwolves can finish out the season in first place. In fact, with two more division wins, the Timberwolves can secure the best division record this season.
The Timberwolves have had a solid season thus far, and beating the Lakers in a 15-point comeback win should have them on a high note going into the All-Star break. Let's hope they come out refreshed, and ready to clinch a division.
As always, go Wolves!
By: Jonah Sprinkel
After the first loss at Target Center in what feels like an eternity, the Minnesota Timberwolves will try to return to form against the Los Angeles Lakers tonight.
However, the game itself will not be the center of attention as the Timberwolves will honor the life of the late Flip Saunders. Saunders’ name will be placed in the rafters of Target Center and a commemorative coin will be given out to fans in attendance. The ceremony will take place at 7:15 p.m.
Outside of Kevin Garnett, Saunders is the single most important figure in Wolves history. He has the most coaching wins in franchise history by a mile. He's also the original architect of the Wolves current squad. The people who spent any amount of time around Saunders only had positive things to say about him. While I could give you a list of Saunders' accomplishments, I think it’s more appropriate to let his peers and former players speak on him.
For anyone interested, here are the projected starting lineups and prediction for tonight's game.
Lakers: PG Josh Hart, SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SF Brandon Ingram, PF Julius Randle, C Brook Lopez
Wolves: PG Jeff Teague, SG Jimmy Butler, SF Andrew Wiggins, PF Taj Gibson, C Karl-Anthony Towns
The Wolves right the ship and take advantage of a young team with some new faces, 115-107.