By: Dan Slaubaugh
It's opening night in San Antonio, and the Wolves are fully capable and ready to begin the quest of bringing playoff basketball back to the city of Minneapolis.
The Spurs, who didn't have a great offseason losing Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathan Simmons in free agency, will look to begin the 2017-18 season strong without all-star forward Kawhi Keonard - my pick to win the MVP award this season. That leaves LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol, who make a potent duo in the frontcourt, as the main guys to carry the scoring load for the Spurs. Newly acquired forward Rudy Gay will also be asked to balance the offensive scoring not only tonight, but throughout the season, bringing size but not much passing to San Antonio. As a team, the Spurs led the league in Defensive Rating the past two seasons, so I'll make a wild guess and say they'll be tough as nails even without Leonard.
This makes for a tough first test for the Wolves, who will go to war for the first official time with new Wolf Jimmy Butler. The preseason figured to be a crash course in chemistry and unity for the Wolves "Big 3". Now we'll see if they can figure it out, knowing when to take a backseat and when to be assertive. Tonight marks a new era of Wolves basketball. Let's hope they can start with a bang.
What: Wolves @ Spurs
When: 8:30 PM CT
Where: AT&T Center
Where to watch: ESPN, Fox Sports North
Where to listen: 830 WCCO
What to watch for:
Butler against Kawhi-less Spurs: Jimmy Butler, who will make his Wolves debut tonight in San Antonio, is certainly not complaining about Leonard missing the season opener. That said, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins need to take advantage of their matchups tonight, although Danny Green and Rudy Gay are no slouches defensively.
Minnesota's defense: For the most part, the Wolves played crummy defense in their three preseason games. Granted, two were against the Warriors, but it wasn't pretty. Tonight will be another tough test versus a team with great spacing and lots of threats from beyond the arc. San Antonio was the No. 1 team in three-point shooting last year at 39.1 percent. Wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau has stated Minnesota needs to improve in "closing out" defenders. For the Wolves to stop the Spurs barrage of three-point shooting, that defensive skill will need to be on display tonight.
Adapting: On the Wolves side, there are a lot of new pieces. This game not only marks Jimmy Butler's Wolves debut, but also Jeff Teague, Jamal Crawford, and Taj Gibson's. How quickly they mesh will be a big factor in their success early in the season. Concerning the Spurs, playing without Kawhi is always an adjustment. "We have some chemistry built up. It's not like we are all new, and the new pieces are doing well", guard Manu Ginobli told Tom Osborn of San Antonio Express-News. The Spurs are too good to think they won't be competitive without Leonard, so the Wolves will need to have the same mindset tonight in as if Leonard were playing.
Minnesota: PG Jeff Teague, SG Andrew Wiggins, SF Jimmy Butler, PF Taj Gibson, C Karl-Anthony Towns
San Antonio: PG Dejounte Murray, SG Danny Green, SF Rudy Gay, PF Pau Gasol, C LaMarcus Aldridge
San Antonio: Kawhi Leonard (right quadriceps), Tony Parker (left quadriceps)
Who's ready to play basketball? Who's ready for possibilities? Who's ready to break this 26-way tie for best record (at least tied!) in basketball and get some games on? Who's ready to put some meat on these playoff dreams?
Do you believe?
If you don't, I'm not sure why you're here. It's opening night, basketball is here, and we're one win away from being tied for first place in the Western Conference. What more could you want?
Wolves offense proves to much for the Spurs. They get the dub, 106-100. KAT finishes with 27 points, 12 rebounds. Jimmy Butler shines in Wolves debut with 22 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals.