Author: Derek James
3-point play: Heat should provide strong test for Towns, Wolves Timberwolves fans have had a few things to be encouraged about this season. At 2-1, the young team has surprised many. In he team's three games, we've seen comeback wins on the road, a blowout of a divisional opponent, and the team jumping out to a 17-point first quarter lead. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that the Wolves have managed a top-10 defense, though that is unlikely to be sustainable.
While the team's promising start has been fun, Thursday night's game against the Miami Heat will be a good test for the inexperienced Timberwolves. It's not to take away anything from Minnesota's victories in Los Angeles and Denver, but those are all likely lottery-bound teams come spring time. Playing a playoff-caliber team like the Heat is a different element.
Let's take a look a select few matchups that will be crucial to the team's success.
Karl-Anthony Towns cannot cover Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside
The first things to stand out are the frontcourt matchups. Miami's double-headed monster of Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside has been a nightmare for opponent's in their first four games. Bosh has averaged 14 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks and steals per game. Starting alongside Bosh, Whiteside is averaging 15.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game on 76.3 percent shooting.
Both of these players are capable of doing damage offensively, defensively, and on the boards. Towns has been a revelation so far this season, looking NBA-ready from Day One, but this will be his biggest challenge yet. There may be times that Bosh will lure him out to the perimeter, and others when he has to post up Whiteside and his infinite wingspan.
Mostly, Towns can't do it all on his own. As good as he's been, that's just asking too much. Kevin Garnett can no longer play enough minutes to make a difference, and the team doesn't have a ton of options. Gorgui Dieng is an OK defender on most nights, but found himself lost against Portland's Mason Plumlee. The team will need Dieng to keep himself in the proper spots to have a better defensive and rebounding team than we saw on Monday.
Goran Dragic cannot be allowed to beat up Zach LaVine
Since the Timberwolves have given their bench extended minutes in their first three games, it's safe to say LaVine will find himself facing off against Miami's starting point guard.
Dragic is one of the top starting point guards in the NBA, and he can hurt you in a number of ways. First, Dragic shoots 45.7 percent from the field, and 44.4 percent from 3-point range, so he cannot be left alone. Secondly, he can make plays defensively and also averages just 2.1 turnovers per 36 minutes. Finally, with his five assists per game, he is also capable of setting up his teammates.
For LaVine, the biggest thing he can do is to just stay in front of Dragic. The Heat point guard gives up three inches in height to LaVine, which could enable LaVine to bother Dragic's shot. The Timberwolves' team defense will need to be on point, since LaVine struggles with screens, and Heat coach Eric Spoelstra will undoubtedly deploy them to mitigate LaVine's size advantage. Garnett is a good communicator on defense, but again, he doesn't play a lot of minutes. It will fall on the team to communicate to avoid costly defensive lapses.
Andrew Wiggins against Justise Winslow should be fun
Admittedly, we don't know a lot about Miami rookie Justise Winslow as an NBA pro yet. Through four games, it at least appears like the Heat got a nice gift when they picked him 10th overall in June's draft. Going from the 6-foot-9, 220-pound Luol Deng to 6-foot-7, 225-pound Winslow should keep Wiggins very busy all night.
The early returns on Winslow have been positive. He's on the short list of the top rookies so far. He's a 46.2 percent shooter within the arc, and a 37.5 percent shooter outside of it. In just 24 minutes per game, Winslow is grabbing 4.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game, so he's done a bit of everything. Prorated for 36 minutes, or starter's minutes, that makes Winslow an above-average 3-point shooter who also averages 6.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists.
And on the other bench, will be Andrew Wiggins, the 2015 NBA Rookie of the Year. Winslow will have to contend with Wiggins on both ends. Wiggins has struggled mightily shooting the ball this season because of back spasms. Yet, Wiggins is still averaging more than 14 points per game because he gets to the line at James Harden-like levels. Wiggins has become incredibly proficient at drawing contact and getting easy points at the line.
Thursday night would be a good night for Wiggins to get his shot going again as he'll have the opportunity to keep Winslow off-balance all night with his inside-out game.
Wolves Press Clippings
Author: Todd Barin
Wolves Can't Handle Heat, Drop Second Straight At Home The Wolves got off to a fast start once again, but the youthful squad couldn’t maintain their defensive tenacity for very long. The game was a back-and-forth battle for the first half, but the veteran-led Heat pulled away in the second.
Minnesota looked good and got out to a 9-4 lead, but the Heat quickly turned their game around and went on a 10-0 run. The rest of the first quarter was pretty sloppy on both ends. The Wolves finished shooting 25 percent from the field and Miami had five turnovers. Andrew Wiggins played 11 minutes in the first quarter but seemed to force some shots and went 1-for-6.
Shabazz Muhammad provided a nice spark off the bench getting three offensive boards, which included one that lead to a nice and-1. Midway through the second quarter, with the Wolves trailing 32-31, Ricky Rubio and Wiggins made their way back onto the court- unfortunately that didn’t help Minnesota’s shooting woes. The Wolves finished the half 13-for-42 from the field and only 2-for-5 from 3-point range. Miami guard Dwyane Wade decided to turn back the clock with about four minutes to go in the first half and capped off the half with a spectacular half-court buzzer-beater. The former Marquette guard ended the half with 16 points, going an impressive 7-for-12 from the field.
The Wolves again started off the half strong, going on a 7-0 run with the starters back in the game which brought Minnesota within five, 53-48. Basketball is a game of runs as they say and it was Miami’s turn, going on a 12-3 run to be up 67-53. For the rest of the quarter the story was more of the same; Minnesota shooting less than 30 percent and the Heat putting in some scrappy buckets, Wolves trailed 73-61.
“I think we started missing shots early and then everybody starts settling for one-pass shots, like everybody’s going to get us going,” head coach Sam Mitchell said. “It’s just a mark of a young team, not understanding that you still have to run your offense, you still have to make multiple passes, you have to give the defense a chance to make a mistake.”
Mitchell decided to go with the second unit to start the fourth quarter, which led to Miami leading 80-65 with eight minutes to go in the game. With five minutes to go in the fourth, and down 90-72, Rubio and Karl-Anthony Towns had only played 22 minutes each. Considering Minnesota has six games in nine days coming up, coach Mitchell decided to rest his starters. Miami went on to win 96-84.
“The thing that I laugh about everyday is that they think they know how to play,” Mitchell said. That’s the toughest thing with the kids today, they think they know how to play. And you know what, it’s just going to take a certain amount of failure before they realize that they aren’t going to reinvent this game.”
Leader Of The Pack: Shabazz Muhammad
Muhammad was really the only bright spot for the Wolves tonight, scoring 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting and grabbing four offensive rebounds. He sparked a comeback in the second quarter and played with energy all night.
“I think we didn’t move the ball, we were playing really selfish out there and I think if you move the ball great things happen,” Muhammad said. “It’s something that we really need to worry about. I don’t know what we saw out there but we’re pretty disappointed in that performance.”
Wiggins looked off for mostly the whole game, but did show a couple flashes of excellence, which included this strong baseline drive and dunk. Wiggins finished with 12 points, going 5-for-18 from the field.
13: Adreian Payne played extended minutes for the Wolves and went on to score nine points to go along with his six rebounds.
35: Minnesota shot a brutal 30-for-85 from the field compared to Miami’s 37-for-76.
25: Wade looked like his old-self tonight playing well on both ends of the court. Wade surprisingly had his way with Wiggins throughout the game, shooting 11-for-19 and stealing the ball three times.