By: Jonah Sprinkel
No matter the season, the Minnesota Timberwolves are always riding a rollercoaster of emotion. Five days ago, they fired the coach and president of basketball operations who led them to their first playoff appearance since dinosaurs roamed the land surrounding Target Center. The team promoted Ryan Saunders, then assistant and son of the great Flip Saunders, to interim head coach. The Wolves squad responded to this move with one of their more engaged and passionate performances on the season, gifting the 32-year-old coach his first win ever. Did I mention that Ryan ran his dad’s favorite play to start the game? Yeah, you’re right, it is a little dusty in here. The younger Saunders hopes to create his first ever win streak as Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks come to Minneapolis tonight.
What: Mavs @ Wolves
When: 7:00 PM CT
Where: Target Center, Minneapolis
Where to watch: Fox Sports North
Where to listen: 830 AM WCCO
What to watch for
The return of Rose: Derrick Rose is returning from injury tonight. The Wolves score nearly six more points per 100 possessions when Rose is in the game versus when he’s sitting, a jump from 111.8 to 117.3. If the Wolves were to post a 117-offensive rating over an entire season they would be the best offense of all time by a significant margin. Despite his “bench role”, most Rose’s minutes have come with the starters. With Saunders likely going to a nine- or 10-man rotation on a regular basis, there may be a few twists to the regular substitution patterns. It should be interesting to see how this trend continues with Saunders in charge.
Free throws: On Tuesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Wolves attempted 40 free throws. This has only happened one other time this year – interestingly enough, it came against Dallas in October. NBA team’s average 23 attempts a game and the Wolves average nearly 25. In a game which the Wolves won by two, every free throw mattered. Moving forward, the team won’t have this kind of offensive cushion. What will Ryan Saunders do to make up the difference?
Andrew Wiggins: Nobody look, but Andrew Wiggins may be at the beginning of a hot streak. Over the last four games the Canadian is averaging 29 points, almost five rebounds, three assists and only one and a half turnovers on a 45/30/78 split. The shooing split may be a bit ugly, but it’s a vast improvement over his 23 games before the uptick where he posted a split of 39/32/71. One other thing of note, Wiggins had not attempted more than 10 free throws a game once this season until he did it in both of the last two games. He finished those games with 28 and 40 points. In other words, if Wiggins doesn’t want to go to the charity stripe, someone should put him in a grocery cart and push him there themselves.
Minnesota: PG Jeff Teague, SG Josh Okogie, SF Andrew Wiggins, PF Taj Gibson, C Karl-Anthony Towns
Dallas: PG Luka Doncic, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Harrison Barnes, PF Maxi Kleber, C DeAndre Jordan
Minnesota: Derrick Rose - Probable, Robert Covington - OUT
Dallas: Dirk Nowitzki – Probable, Dennis Smith Jr. – OUT
With the Wolves favored by five, Derrick Rose coming back from injury and the emotions of the Saunders win still flowing throughout the organization, the team should win tonight, 112-108.