By: Nathan Brinkman
When: Wednesday, 11/22 , 7:00 PM
Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
Where to watch: Fox Sports North Plus
Where to listen: 830 WCCO
Winners of eight of their first 12 games, the Orlando Magic (8-9) started the season on fire, especially considering the teams futility over the last several seasons. The team has now lost five straight and are in urgent need of a turnaround.
Unfortunately, the Timberwolves (10-7) are in a similar boat after losing two in a row to relatively beatable teams in Detroit and Charlotte respectively. For the Wolves, the hope is that with the new veteran leadership on the roster the team will be more easily able to bounce back from off games than a youthful team such as Orlando.
Three things to watch for:
Thibodeau's refusal to give Bjelica more minutes
Through 17 games, Nemanja Bjeliaca has been a key cog in the Wolves 10-7 start averaging 7.5 points and 3 rebounds while shooting a blistering 53.8 percent (2nd best in NBA) from three-point range. He's also contributed across the board with a decent defensive effort as well. Head coach Tom Thibodeau has said he's trying to find ways to get Bjelica more playing time, but that has not been the case. Always reluctant to use his bench, Thibs' refusal to make in-season coaching changes is a legitimate concern. This situation particularly feels like Thibs is "scared" for Bjelica to play too well because then there is no justification to not play him more. Let's hope that is not the case and Bjelica starts getting the minutes he deserves.
Karl Anthony Towns, who was named Western Conference Player of the Week after averaging 20.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 2 assists while shooting 55.4 percent from the floor including 9-16 from three point range for games played Nov. 13-19, is one of the all-around best offensive big men in the NBA. He has a plethora of moves and is freakishly athletic. Nikola Vucevic will be matched-up with Towns most of the game. Vucevic, who is a talented back to the basket low post scoring center, is significantly less athletic than Towns. This match-up should be one in which KAT can exploit. I expect Towns to put up at least 25 points and 12 rebounds and perhaps more if he gets a lot of touches. Orlando simply will have no answer for KAT.
The most important aspect of a contending team in any professional sport is grit. After coming off of two consecutive losses the Timberwolves need to dig deep and show that they have the grit it takes to be a great team. The influx of veteran players acquired in the offseason should provide this team with the necessary grit for them to come out and take care of business against the young core of Orlando. If this is not the case, this team will be in trouble if they still expect to do well in or even reach the post season.
Minnesota: PG Jeff Teague, SG Jimmy Butler, SF Andrew Wiggins, PF Taj Gibson, C Karl-Anthony Towns
Orlando: PG Elfrid Payton, SG Evan Fournier, SF Terrence Ross, PF Aaron Gordon, C Nikola Vucevic
Wolves win 109-88. I think the Wolves have a much better team and a much better veteran leadership group which will allow them to come out and dominate the Magic at home.